Almost everyone has suffered some public humiliation in their life. Some of us more than once. When I was 11, I commented to a seatmate on the bus to Dunbar Middle School that I thought a girl was very nice. Then a girl in the seat in front of us turned and said out loud, "She hates your guts." I was mortified. Didn't ask a girl out all the way through high school. Turned into an introvert, in fact. When I was about 15 I fainted in the front-row pew of a huge Catholic Church in Tampa; revived, they walked me out and sat me near the exit, whereupon every person leaving stopped and asked if I was ok. Humiliated. Didn't quit the church right then, but didn't enjoy going back there for the moist part. As an adult I have had bad moments too. But if you are going to be humiliated, it might as well come at the hands of one of the best. In my case, it was Steve Spurrier. Yes, that one. I don't know if he was having a bad day or had been approached too many times while attended a ballet performance, but he left me mortified, embarrassed, and shaken; I have never forgotten it.
Suffice it to say that as a Gamecock fan I will always consider Spurrier our best football coach, until someone brings home a national championship. I'll always be a fan. He revived the team's fortunes and put some of the best squads ever on the Williams Brice field. And it wasn't as if I had never met him before. When I was 17 or 18 in Tampa, he showed up at a country club I was working at (I think he may have been a QB coach at Florida or perhaps Georgia Tech), and he took a few minutes to walk over and chat with me, which is quite heady for a football fan who had followed the Gators. I was 6'4", 280 pounds, he came up and quipped, "How did I miss you on the recruiting trail?" A Heisman winner, he played for San Francisco (1967-1975) and then the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1976) and would coach the USFL Tampa Bay Bandits (1983-1985) and NFL Washington Redskins (2002-2003), and of course he was great as the Head Ball Coach at Florida (1990-2001). So he has been a big deal in my sports world since I was little.
But then he stuck a dagger in my heart.
For about six years my eldest son danced with the Columbia Classical Ballet. I volunteered to help wherever I could. Almost yearly I helped the incoming (and later outgoing) dancers move furniture from storage to their apartments, and sometimes I assisted with moving props. During the Nutcracker seasonal performances, they usually asked me to take one of the least-enjoyable posts, supervising the boy dancers back stage in their dressing area. This often meant giving up the entire weekend, Friday to Sunday. At least I always got to watch one performance. Joey loved the Nutcracker. For a year or two Spurrier's grandsons also participated. Their mother is a very nice and gracious lady.
Now, I've never been a signature seeker. I've met some famous and well-known people, and it has been wonderful to shake their hands. Former USC baseball coach and current Athletics Director Ray Tanner and his wife were two of the nicest individuals I have ever talked with. Even let me take a selfie. One of my long-time heroes and favorite writers Pat Conroy was gracious and nice, even when a crowd wanted a piece of him. Luckily my boss Matthew Bruccoli pulled him over and introduced me to Conroy. That was a thrill for me. Author Ron Rash stood and chatted with me for at least a half hour once, when he didn't have to. Over the years I've met Strom Thurmond, Stephen Ambrose, John Hope Franklin, John Updike, James Dickey, Tommy Lasorda, John Robinson, Denny McClain, Gordon Jago, Raymond Berry, Jack Thompson (the Throwin' Samoan), Oscar Fabbianni, and a host of other well-known people in the arts and sports. Never once asked for an autograph, or made myself a pest, I think. I just like the thrill of saying hello and sometimes shaking a hand.
So there I was six or seven years ago, down in the bowels of the Koger Center in Columbia after supervising the boys again (I think it was perhaps my fifth time doing it), when Spurrier senior and a small group came down to the dressing room to collect their tots, who were pretty good kids if not a bit rambunctious. I was surprised and delighted, and I stepped over to shake his hand. He was by then a Gamecock legend. He looked at me like I was the Devil incarnate; in front of my sons and several boys, as well as the group he was with, he growled "Can't you people leave me alone. I'm here to see my grandsons. Leave me be." (that may not be an exact quotation, because I was stunned, but that was the gist). Obviously he didn't shake my hand. I stepped away and they left after a few minutes. I felt like I had been punched. I feared I might be glowing red. My boy looked at me later and asked, "Why was he mean to you?" Sadly Joey gave up dance in the sixth grade. Negative peer pressure. It seems like such a small thing, but it hurt.
Since then, I have been much more reluctant to approach anyone with even a smidgen of fame or notoriety. I still do, though, sometimes. Coach Dawn Staley was nice, but all I said, in passing was "Hey coach, glad we have you here," and then I scurried by. I've met a few writers since, and they have been nice. But in public spaces, if I recognize someone, I tend to stay away.