Heroes are hard to find when you get too old to worship sports figures and begin to comprehend that the Frank Robinsons and Larry Birds of the world are flesh and blood just like you and me.
But I've found my hero, and he's also my friend.
New Britain High School athletic director coach Lenny Corto is as kind and gentle a soul as any ex-football coach can be. The misguided will say Corto crossed the politically correct line on Friday at the Bloomfield-Old Saybrook basketball game when he ejected two fans for refusing to honor America by standing for the National Anthem.
Corto graciously offered New Britain High's Chick Shea Gymnasium as a neutral site for that Class S semifinal. I don't know exactly what prompted him to take the action he did, but I'm sure he expected to feel heat from it and I salute him for putting the love of his country in front of any personal repercussions he may endure as a result.
According to reports, the two fans -- Jeffrey Green and Aaron Johnson of New Haven -- have played their "victim" card and gone whimpering to the media about being mistreated. WTNH Channel 8 aired a report on the incident, and while the report did not contain comment from either Corto, the school superintendent or the NBHS principal, I have to assume my friend is under fire. For the record, Johnson and Green had their admissions refunded.
For God's sake there's a war on. Despite any perceived improprieties regarding our nation's past, Americans do bask in the glow of freedom. Before every sporting event, we're asked to honor our great nation by taking less than two minutes to remove our hats, stand and acknowledge the flag that symbolizes that nation. Is that really too much to ask?
Green and Johnson are African-Americans. Johnson is an assistant basketball coach at the Hyde Leadership School in Hamden, and I thank him for giving back to the youth of his area through that personal sacrifice because I can assure you he isn't doing it for the money. I realize that I sit here exposing myself to short-sighted idealists like the American Civil Liberties Union as a racist, but I don't care because I know I'm not, and the thousands of black, white, Dominican, Venezuelan, Puerto Rican, Oriental, Polish, Jewish, Indian, etc. whom I've written about and befriended over my 55 years know I'm not. Neither is Lenny, not by a longshot. This issue isn't about black and white, it's about red, white and blue.
I can't reach Lenny right now to offer him my support. I suppose he has sequestered himself on his own or on the advice of the school system. He is a sensitive man who, in a society where political correctness has run amuck, is feeling the brunt of his patriotic actions when the vast, vast majority of Americans would and will be singing his praises as this hot-button topic permeates cyberspace. I would like a photo of Lenny standing in front of the flag so I can put it on the wall in my office next to the other people I've revered as heroes, like Theodore Roosevelt, Civil War general Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Mark Twain, Errol Flynn, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, George Foster, Larry Bird and my father.
To Green and Johnson, I understand that you feel persecuted. As a Jewish person, my ancestors were persecuted and some relatives slaughtered. I'm sure yours were, too, and I surely feel your pain. But in America, both your people and mine live in freedom and we have a lot to be thankful for. Many people have died so that we can have this freedom, and we acknowledge the flag at sporting events to honor their memories.
You can make your personal statements when you enter the voting booth. You can protest whatever you may see as an indiscretion in any non-violent manner you wish. You can answer this blog for all our readers to see. But please don't dishonor my country. Lenny and I treasure it dearly. We hope that someday you'll understand why and choose to treaure it, too.