Since the dawn of time—or, least since anyone here at Only A Game can remember, which is pretty much the same thing as the dawn of time—kids at sporting events have been lining up for obligatory handshakes and mumbles of “good game, good game.”
This week, the Kentucky High School Athletic Association issued a directive that might change all that, at least in Kentucky. Bob Cook, who writes about youth sports for Forbes, joins Bill Littlefield to explain.
BL: Kentucky hasn’t actually banned handshakes after sporting events, have they?
BK: No, what Kentucky did was put out a set of protocols for postgame conduct, basically saying that once the game is over, in certain team sports, that officials are to leave the field immediately and that if the coaches and players want to have a postgame handshake they can, but they’re not required to. If they do have a postgame handshake, that means the coaches, adults and schools are responsible for their conduct. And if there’s anything that goes wrong such as a fight or anything else like that in the line then the schools can get in trouble for that.
BL: Commissioner Julian Tackett said that soccer players have been tripped in the handshake line, volleyball players have thrown punches at each other, football players have thrown helmets at each other, and that’s just this year in Kentucky. Is this a growing national or international problem, or is Kentucky unique?
BC: I don’t think Kentucky’s particularly unique. I mean we’ve seen this at all levels of sport. Remember Jim Harbaugh and Jim Schwartz going at each other after shaking hands. Indiana University men’s basketball coach Tom Crean going through the line at Michigan and yelling at a former assistant at IU, now at Michigan, “You helped wreck our program.” There’s all sorts of things that happen in line and certainly there are always kids who refuse to shake hands or say something nasty or just make it clear that, “I’m saying good game but I don’t really mean it.” It can be difficult for some to turn off those competitive juices and suddenly remember to be a good sport in line.
BL: You tweet under the handle @notgoingpro so I assume you believe youth sports has more to offer than, you know, a road to the big leagues. What about sportsmanship? These kids are supposed to be learning it. Isn’t this kind of saying you don’t have to shake hands, a way to say, “All right, forget it, you don’t have to learn it?”
BC: Well I don’t think it is that black and white. I do think it is a shame if people can’t handle themselves in a simple handshake line. You should be able to get through it without any issues. If you have parents, if you have adults around who aren’t teaching civility and sportsmanship to kids, then you can’t be completely shocked when something happens in the handshake line. So I would suspect that 99 percent of the time in Kentucky everyone’s still going to shake hands. But this just gives some leeway for those situations when people have just lost their minds.
BL: If schools decide to go ahead with a postgame handshake they risk a $1,000 fine if a postgame fight does break out. Are schools in Kentucky going to take that risk?
BC: I think most will. Even though Kentucky’s said they’ve had some cases this year, with all the hundreds or thousands of games in various sports that have already been played, this is not something that happens that often. In most cases, the two teams play, they shake hands, everybody goes home, maybe they get some postgame ice cream, no big deal.
What I think this is for is to give the schools some guidance to say, hey, if you’re playing a big game against your toughest rival or if it’s clear there’s been some chippiness through the game and things are kind of at the edge if you want to get out of Dodge, get out of there. Don’t feel like you have to wait and shake hands. Or perhaps the coaches can meet and shake hands and say, “What do you think?” “OK, let’s do it or let’s not do it.” The only reason I can see for not doing it is that there’s a bad flu bug going around and people should not be touching each other.