John Clay: Do away with handshakes? Might as well do away with sports

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistOctober 9, 2013 

The end of the line? Franklin County and Dunbar teams took part in a traditional — and civil — post-game handshake after a tournament game in May.

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The issue isn't the poorly worded memorandum about post-game procedures that got the Kentucky High School Athletic Association into hot water in the first place.

No, the real issue is the sad state of affairs that has brought us to this position. The position in a world where winning has grown far too important and competition far too combative. We can't even shake hands anymore.

Or, at least, it seems we can't shake hands without risking a fight or a legal repercussion or a full-blown controversy.

If that isn't proof sportsmanship is dead, then we should agree it is at least on life support.

In explaining why the KHSAA decided to address the post-game handshake issue — it now says there is no ban on post-game handshakes as long as they are supervised — Commissioner Julian Tackett reported there had been at least a couple of dozen post-game incidents in the past three years.

Are you surprised by this?

If so, you haven't attended a sporting event of late.

Coaches scream at officials. Fans scream at coaches and officials. Players taunt opposing players. Parents have even now been known to yell from the stands at players that aren't even their own children.

Tackett said Tuesday that if parents were really concerned about sportsmanship, "they wouldn't treat the referees like they do — chase them off the fields, follow them to cars, not to mention the language that's used."

News flash: Back in April, a youth soccer referee died after being punched in the head by a 17-year-old upset over a yellow card he had received.

That didn't happen in Europe or some far-off land that takes soccer too seriously. That happened in Utah.

Is there any wonder Tackett is concerned?

Kids know only what their eyes and ears tell them, and the picture currently being painted involves a near-total loss of perspective.

Presidents at supposed institutions of higher learning fire coaches five games into a season. Schools lauded for supposedly doing it the "right way" are later found to be offering fake classes to keep athletes eligible and allowing "student-athletes" to remain on teams after run-ins with the law.

Here's a small thing that says a lot: If you watch the games closely, at any level, when someone hits the floor or the turf, no one from the other side offers a hand to help him or her up anymore.

When it does happen, you notice. You notice, because it's rare.

That isn't to say eliminating the post-game handshake is the way to go or that the KHSAA didn't make things a little worse by reacting with an overreaction.

But then you are reading someone who loves the post-game handshake, who hates when the camera cuts away before we get to see the two sides meet at midfield.

Just last Sunday, the capper on Denver's epic 51-48 win over Dallas came when the two quarterbacks, Peyton Manning and Tony Romo, embraced in a post-game hug.

This is what sports is supposed to be about: That two teams or individuals can play as hard as humanly possible in an athletic endeavor and then congratulate and honor the other when the competition is complete.

The best moment of the Stanley Cup playoffs is at series end when the two sides line up at center ice and shake hands.

Maybe the best scene in all of sports come at the end of a long, grueling Grand Slam tennis match when the winner consoles the loser at the net.

Last college basketball season, the over-caffeinated Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean got into it with an assistant coach from Michigan in the handshake line and some suggested we should eliminate these "fake" shows of sportsmanship altogether.

If that's the case, maybe we should cut out sports altogether, especially if we still — against all odds — hold to the belief that at the educational level its true value comes from teaching character.

A handshake at the end of competition isn't where that teaching process should end.

It's where it should begin.

John Clay: 859-231-3226. E-mail: jclay@herald-leader.com. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv.

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