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OPINION: Stop shaming athletes for celebrating

Don Cherry is just the latest in a long line of people who shame athletes for celebrating their accomplishments. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

Perhaps one of the sillier storylines this NHL season has been Don Cherry’s hatred of the Carolina Hurricanes’ postgame celebrations.

The Canadian hockey commentator, best known for his extravagant suits and xenophobic opinions, first made headlines about this in February, referring to the Hurricanes, whose celebrations took place after home victories — and only after the opposing team left the ice — as “a bunch of jerks.” The particular celebration that set Cherry off involved forward Warren Foegele pretending to hit a home run and subsequently flipping his “bat.”

Cherry doubled down recently after the Hurricanes, to the surprise of many, found themselves in the Eastern Conference Final after sweeping the New York Islanders in Round 2. While noting the celebrations have been toned down during the playoffs, Cherry called Carolina fans “front-running” while going on an incoherent rant about why the Hurricanes’ celebrations are the “wrong thing to do.”

Oh, yeah — Cherry, somehow ignorant about the Internet’s existence, also wondered how his comments made it down from Canada to Raleigh during the latest incident.

Sadly, Cherry’s view on this seems to be commonplace in sports. Players — world-class athletes performing at a ridiculously high level — should not be able to celebrate their amazing accomplishments because — well, other than “unwritten rules,” there really doesn’t seem to be a reason why other than people get mad.

Take the bat flip that apparently inspired Foegele’s “bat flip” that sparked the “bunch of jerks” comment in the first place — the famous Jose Bautista bat flip in Game 5 of the 2015 American League Divisional Series between the Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers.

After hitting a go-ahead three-run homer in the bottom of the seventh inning, Bautista performed what was “the most ostentatious bat flip in MLB history,” according to Andrew Keh of The New York Times.

It was awesome and the perfect way to cap off the most dramatic inning of the series, if not the entire postseason.

However, the Rangers — perhaps completely unaware of the fact that if Bautista were retired in that at-bat, no bat would have been flipped — didn’t like it. The next season, Rangers relief pitcher Matt Bush intentionally hit Bautista. Bautista responded with an illegal slide into second base and Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor punched Bautista.

All this because Bautista celebrated a homer in the moment.

Ranger fans were so proud of Odor’s assault on Bautista, even, that I saw a vendor outside Globe Life Park selling a shirt that read “Bat Flip, Broken Lip” when I attended a game there later that season.

“I’m upset that you’re good at baseball” was apparently too long to fit on the shirt.

In a sort of similar situation that relates to USF baseball, last season against ECU, Joe Genord launched a massive homer and then proceeded to showboat a bit, drawing the ire of Pirates coach Cliff Godwin.

“If this was professional baseball, he would’ve gotten smoked [hit] his next at-bat,” Godwin said at the time.

Godwin was right, but he shouldn’t have been, especially since ECU pitcher Gavin Williams instigated the entire situation by telling Genord to get back in the batter’s box then serving him up a meatball. If Genord is retired in that at-bat, there’s no reason for the Pirates to be upset and have their coach ranting about what would happen to Genord in the pros if he had the audacity to enjoy his accomplishments in the moment.

But back to the Carolina Hurricanes. The Hurricanes have taken Cherry’s idiotic comments in good stride, selling T-shirts with “A Bunch of Jerks” on them and spelling out “Jerks” with rally towels in the seats at PNC Arena. After Cherry doubled down with his “front-running” comments, Carolina released an updated shirt to reflect that it is now a team of “front-running jerks.”

The Hurricanes’ response to these inane ramblings are exactly what the celebrations were supposed to be in the first place — fun. Not only fun for the team, but fun for its fans, who have completely embraced the “bunch of jerks” tagline.

After all, sports are supposed to be fun, right?

Maybe someone should tell Cherry that.