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I grew up on sports.

Yup, that’s me above dropping the puck for my brother on the backyard rink our Mom built us over many late and frigid nights.

When I was a kid, I played hockey and football and baseball. I golfed and skied and tennis’ed. I swam. I biked. I ran. I even bowled.

Lots of team sports. It was camaraderie in a peck of pals.

I hugged and patted the butts of many a young boy in my childhood which seems a bit creepy now that I think about it!

Before and after school, anytime I wasn’t delivering newspapers or sleeping, I was across the street in the park with a glove, a ball, a stick, a club, or a bat in my hand.

Like every day. Rain and snow… yes, even mud… just added to the “fun”.

Before and after family meals there was a steady stream of friends calling at the door… can Larry play street hockey? football? baseball?

I loved sports. I loved my buddies.

I’m thinking about sports this week because of flamboyant Canadian jock-jerk Don Cherry who poisons the well of understanding and compassion by calling out others who don’t look or act like him… in this week’s case… immigrants.

Previously, over many years, he’s attacked: French-Canadians, Europeans, people of colour, and women, with Trumpian insults.

Don cherry

He’s opinionated, aggressive and boorish. Yet, many adore him.

Not me.

I spent a lot of time in dressing rooms and locker rooms as a youngster. Comfortable and at home until … I reached the teen years and … things changed.

Listening to Mr. Cherry reminds me of this uncomfortable transition period in my life.

At 13 or 14 years old, when the brawny hormones and cultural conditioning kicked in, many of the nice, kind boys I hung out with for years put on unusual costumes that I didn’t recognize.

Their bodies were changing and they became young men.

The tone of team sports changed too, into a more macho’ized form of activity. The games we played grew more aggressive and angry.

Team sports felt less like games and more like an outlet for anger and short fuses.

Sure, sportsmanship continued to exist, but was harder to find in this virile forest.

Slower than most, I too became a man, but I think in a slightly different way than many of the guys surrounding me.

Months and years passed and I grew more and more uncomfortable with the “toxic masculinity” that necessitated frequent swearing, heavy drinking, misogynistic joking.

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It was growing harder to be a “gentle man” and still remain a part of the core of the team, regardless of talent and skill.

For me, the fun in participating in team sports sadly faded.

I participate in lots of physical pursuits today, but team ones? well… infrequently. My last organized hockey game was more than 10 years ago now.

Like everyone, I have my contradictions.

I still enjoy watching most team sports… I’ve been an avid booster of the Hamilton Tiger Cat football team for decades… OSKEE WEE WEE (don’t even ask!).

Hockey (minus the fighting) is physical and fast and can be as exciting as ever.

Soccer mastery amazes me.

I idolize the dedication, passion, and skill exhibited by athletes. Sport at its best is a beauty and an inspiration to our world. The Olympics give me goosebumps.

When I see examples of observable good sportsmanship, I shiver inside. One small example:

In a cross-country running event in 2012, Spanish runner Ivan Fernandez Anaya had an opportunity to win the race after Kenya’s Olympic bronze medalist Abel Mutai slowed near the finish line thinking that he had won.

Instead of overtaking Mutai at the last second and claiming glory, Anaya urged his opponent over the line and settled for second place.

Anaya later told the media that he didn’t deserve to win and Mutai had created a gap that he could not close if he hadn’t made the mistake.

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That, my friends, is a gentleman, and likely a better man than I.

Our “civilized” world today is dealing with anger and aggression in far too many places. Many leaders and people of influence (like Don Cherry) are directing us towards our inner darkness.

We need more and more examples of positive leadership and good sportsmanship to encourage, inspire and lead us to become our “better angels”.

We’ve come a long way Baby towards sculpting the clay of more gentlemen into “gentle men”. Still, the journey isn’t near over yet.

But the departure of Don Cherry is one more positive step along that road.

gentlman boy