Friday, March 14, 2008


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.


platypus said...

In these days of political correctness, I applaud Mr. Corto for taking a stand on the pledge of allegiance. True, in America people can read a newspaper, hum a tune or talk on their cell phone when the anthem is played. That is their right. But it is also our right to be offended when witnessing such antics - and yes, disrespect. I wonder if these two 'parents' would be so tolerant of others Constitutional rights to give them the finger? Or the 'right' to insult or degrade - or even just to ignore - someone close to them, say, their wife or child?
If they want to claim, as is certainly their Constitutional right to do, the right to disrespect the flag, fine. But when someone disrespects them, as far as I am concerned, they also surrendered their right to protest. Len Corto was acting within his authority in ejecting them from the gym. Just like in a basketball game, he made a judgment call. These men did not have the right to do whatever they wished on school grounds. As a school coach, at least one man should have been very aware of that. Too bad a simple apology to Mr. Corto could not have resolved the matter then and there. Now it becomes a matter of Constitutional rights, and lawyers, and the Supreme Court next.
As the son of a veteran, I was taught that American flag hangs there on that gym wall for a reason. Without the concepts the flag symbolizes, there probably would not be all the freedoms we enjoy; no schools, no gyms, no basketballs, no Constitutional rights - no Supreme Court in fact. At a time when young men and women - who might have played basketball for teams these two idiots once coached - are willing to die for that flag 24/7, is it too much to ask sports fans to honor America for two minutes before a sporting event? If so, I dare these two champions of their Constitutional rights enter their own gym, where at least one is paid to coach and presumably, set an example for young men or women, and try to take down that American Flag. I'd bet New Haven might have the same reaction as Mr. Corto. If that doesn't happen, I am ashamed for that city, my state and my country.
I hope these men both have their day in court. I hope they win, and the school system is fined $1. But Mr. Corto will also become a hero to many, and justifiably so.

Ryan Pipke said...

Regardless of what you or anybody else thinks, this issue isn't about black, white, red, blue or any other color. It is about people being allowed to worship what they want when they want, which is exactly what this country was built upon.
Those men did not stop anybody else in that arena from acknowledging the flag. As far as I can tell they did not cause a scene. They simply chose not to recognize it themselves.
I will add that they were not in attendance at the game to see the flag, nor to honor America. They were there to see a basketball game.
Everybody has the right to honor (or not honor) their country in the way they see fit. Many people may have noticed that when I attend sporting events as a writer, I never face the flag. I do stand up, as a sign of respect to those who have fought for freedom around the world and from all nations, but I do not feel the need or the desire to look at a flag that quite honestly represents things with which I do not agree about a country I love.
My not looking at the flag in no way means I do not love my country. It is out of my love for this country, and what I feel it formerly stood for, that I choose not to look at the flag until such time as I see those ideals refulfilled.
Furthermore, it is out of my belief that a flag is simply a flag. If I truly want to honor my country, I would prefer to keep my eyes glued to the people in the room, rather than a piece of cloth hung on the wall. People are what make this country. Not symbols.
There is no bigger Len Corto fan on this planet than myself. He was one of the first people I met even before being hired as a full-time reporter in the area, and has been nothing but generous and gracious of his time and assistance, as well as liberal with encouraging words for a young writer.
I respect his right to his own beliefs, but I severely question his judgement in this case. While trying to defend his own beliefs, he infringed on those of others, who asked nothing more than that they not have to stand for something in which they do not believe. They never asked him to do the same.