By Ken Reed

A couple recent articles caught my eye because their subjects were great athletes without egos. One featured track legend Roger Bannister and the other baseball hall-of-famer Sandy Koufax.

Bannister was the first human being to break what was supposed to be an unbreakable barrier, the 4:00 mile, when he ran 3:59.4 in 1954. He retired a few weeks later and began a long career as one of England’s top neurologists.

Koufax is widely considered the greatest left-handed pitcher in baseball history. But he retired early, at age 30, after growing tired of dealing with a sore elbow. After retiring, he chose to avoid the spotlight a lot of former athletes crave and worked at helping those less fortunate than him through a variety of causes and charitable endeavors.

Bannister is more proud of his career helping people as a doctor than he is of his athletic feats.

“That (medical career) to me is a greater source of satisfaction than happening to move my body at a certain speed for a few moments in 1954,” said Bannister.

Bannister’s lack of ego has been a constant throughout his life.

“Modesty in Bannister amounts to an almost complete reluctance to acknowledge his greatness,” wrote Harold Abrahams, another famous English athlete whose track accomplishments inspired the making of the movie “Chariots of Fire.”

Koufax avoided the spotlight from the minute he retired and never needed the celebrity adulation that fuels many professional athletes.

“He never wanted to be the center of attention — he was never part of that ‘dig me’ generation,” according to long-time baseball manager Tony LaRussa. “That wasn’t Sandy.”

Koufax doesn’t do autograph shows or celebrity dinners. He says he never disappeared, he was just following his grandfather’s advice to “spend your time wisely.”

Both Koufax and Bannister have done just that.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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