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Today's Athletes are nothing like Hank Aaron

I’ve been told I’m a fairly perky fellow by nature. I think that’s true for the most part; I’m pretty much a glass-half-full kind of dude.

Yet every once in a while, the cranky Steve pops-up for a brief visit.

Cranky Steve stopped-by for a visit on a day this past January, specifically, on the 22nd of January. That was the day I learned of Hank Aaron’s death. Upon hearing the news, I was struck by waves of sadness and loss. And frustration and despair.

I remember quite well the day Hammerin’ Hank belted his record-breaking 715th homer on April 8, 1974. My brother Shawn and I were watching the game on our front porch that evening, and cheered as the ball soared over the left field fence.

Aaron’s reaction to his history-making feat has stayed with me. He dropped the bat, then jogged around the bases as a few fans attempted to run alongside him, with an occasional pat on Hank’s shoulder. Humility. Grace.

What made his reaction even more impressive was the fact that he received hundreds of death threats as he approached the record. Why? Because of his race.

Of course, threats due to the color of his skin was nothing new to Henry. When he was but a small boy, his mother instructed her children to hide under their beds as a group of Ku Klux Klan member marched in front of their house.

Fast-forward several decades as Hank’s record was eclipsed. Continue to fast-forward as we witness homeruns being belted by today’s era of sluggers, followed by bat-flipping, chest-pounding, arm-raising, expletive-screaming, jewelry-dangling antics too often on display.

What happened to class? What happened to maturity? What happened to acting in a way that honors the legacy of those who have paved the way, legacies provided by the likes of Aaron, Mays and Clemente? What’s happened to acting like this isn’t the first time I’ve ever hit a homerun?

So, I’m grieving the loss of Hank Aaron. I’m grieving after being reminded of what he had to deal with as an African American athlete living in our country. And I’m frustrated, as I lament the loss of an era of athletes I was anxious to watch and appreciate.

I’m hoping the 2021 version of MLB athletes will inspire the return of “Perky Steve.” But I’m not holding my breath.

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