This column first appeared May 16, 2022 in The Lede and on al.com.
Monday marks the fourth anniversary of Mike Slive's death. Hard to believe he's been gone that long. College sports lost a singular leader on May 16, 2018, when the iconic SEC commissioner, the most powerful and personable man in intercollegiate athletics, left us at age 77 due to complications from prostate cancer. A lot of us lost a personal friend who was always there to provide counsel or share breakfast, often at the same time in his personal booth at Salem's Diner in Homewood.
As his chosen profession changes by the minute in fundamental ways, I often wonder. If he were still with us, what would Mike think? What would he say? How would he counsel his worthy successor as Greg Sankey steers the enterprise through the transfer portal, NIL, potential college football playoff expansion and actual SEC expansion?
Can't say that I know where Slive would land point by point, issue by issue, but I am sure where he would stand in general. On principle, in favor of building the kind of creative, common-sense consensus that has made the SEC much stronger than the sum of its impressive parts.
For the last year and a half, I've thought about Mike Slive a lot for more personal reasons because I finally listened to what he said about something far more important than college football. I finally practiced what he preached in the last years of his life as an advocate for prostate cancer research, as the namesake of a foundation he co-founded with close friend Ed Meyerson. It is dedicated to this day to eradicating the disease Meyerson survived and Slive fought twice, the battles separated by two decades. In 2017, he honored me by letting me tell the story of the origin of the Mike Slive Foundation for Prostate Cancer Research. It was about time for me to honor him.
So as a precaution, I got tested for prostate cancer. It was a PSA blood test. No big deal, right? Right. Right up to the point where they told me I tested positive. They did more tests to be sure. Even though I had no pain, there was no mistake, and that little walnut-sized gland had to go. I had surgery last July, right after SEC Football Media Days.
If you've seen me since, at the first UAB football game in Protective Stadium or the first UAB basketball game in the new Legacy Arena, you probably didn't suspect a thing. The recovery was short, the downtime and side effects minimal. Ten months later, here I am, still writing about the sports I love, promoting the benefits of youth sports for the CoachSafely Foundation and the National Council of Youth Sports, holding my own in H-O-R-S-E and King of the Paint with my two sons on our home court.
Until now, I hadn't told many people about my C-word experience because, well, I'm a guy and we don't talk about that kind of thing and everything worked out. Imagine. Mike Slive spent the last years of his life trying to bring prostate cancer out of the shadows, to get men to talk about it and get tested for it because they can treat it and you can survive it, and the earlier they detect it, the better. My silence wasn't helping the cause.
I didn't plan to share my story today until I opened a new fund-raising letter from the Mike Slive Foundation. It was signed by Mike's daughter, Anna Slive Harwood, who carries on his legacy by leading the foundation. One paragraph jumped off the page: "When I think about how my father would respond to all that is the state of the world today - from the changes in intercollegiate athletics to a global pandemic - one word comes to mind: kindness. My father's kindness was unending. He always made time to help others no matter how busy the day was."
There aren't enough seats in the 14 SEC football stadiums to hold all the people who would second that emotion. I'm just one, but in that spirit, in his honor, I'm preaching to the choir of strong, silent types who think, even though prostate cancer affects one of every eight men, it won't be them. If you're a man over 40, get tested, even if you work out, stay fit and feel no pain. If you know a man over 40, make sure he gets tested, and don't take no for an answer.
Thank you, Anna, for your motivation. Thank you, Mike, for your inspiration and your friendship. Come Monday, I would light a cigar in your memory, but I don't smoke, and I have a better idea. Think I'll step out back and work on my jump shot. The first time I hit one from deep, I'll point to the sky. You'll know why.