Indianapolis sports talk show host Kent Sterling wrote an interesting article on his website over the weekend. He argues the traditional postgame handshake line no longer has a place in sports and needs to go. I respectfully disagree, but there are a few points I need to disclose first.
Kent Sterling is a friend of mine and a friend of the St. Louis Sports Commission. When he worked in St. Louis, he was a huge supporter of our sportsmanship programs and published several of my articles on his station’s website.
He cares about sportsmanship and believes in the positive affect sports can have on everyone. Kent’s position comes from a frustration with the behavior of coaches and athletes after games. Cincinnati head basketball coach Mick Cronin almost got into a fight with a Xavier player in the handshake line on Saturday afternoon.
Kent’s right in that fights and other acts of aggression happen far too often in the handshake line. He also has a point when he argues even when fights don’t happen, people don’t really take the handshake seriously anymore. The handshakes themselves are limp noodles and players and coaches rarely look each other in the eye.
The handshake line is meant to say, “Hey, we left it all out there and I respect you for giving me your best shot. Good game!” That meaning has been lost because if you’re not growling at your opponent after the contest like some rabid animal, you’re seen as not wanting it bad enough.
To understand the importance of the postgame handshake, look no further than the combat sports. Wrestling, MMA and boxing competitors routinely go out of their way to shake hands, hug and show their opponents respect after a match. These athletes slam, choke and punch each other, yet they find a way to show humility.
One such example came on Saturday night when UFC heavyweights Francis Ngannou and Allistair Overeem fought to determine the number one contender for the UFC Heavyweight Championship. About one minute into the fight, Ngannou may have landed the hardest punch in human history on Overeem.
Overeem was out on contact and required medical attention to regain consciousness. Here is Ngannou’s post-fight interview. Skip ahead to the 1:15 mark to see what he has to say about Overeem.
Forget a bad call or a botched play, I would have a hard time shaking the hand of a man who just turned my lights out. However, Overeem humbled himself as did Ngannou when he thanked his opponent for giving him the opportunity.
Expectations need to be raised among athletes and coaches in team sports. They must respectfully shake hands with opponents in an orderly fashion. No exceptions. It doesn’t matter what happened during the game. You didn’t get fouled as hard as Overeem got punched, so what’s your deal?
People live up (or live down) to expectations. Change them and change the game.