Thursday, October 27, 2011

newspaper column about shaking hands

This week's column from the St. Clair Times was inspired by the endlessly replayed confrontation between Detroit's Jim Schwarz and San Francisco's Jim Harbaugh from the NFL two weeks back, and the concept of shaking hands after a football game. As always, feel free to disagree (assuming you care), either here or on Twitter.
Shake hands or come out swinging

It happens every year, and every year the chorus grows.

Most of us in this state, for better or worse, are in love with the sport of football, whether college or pro. And since the games only occur once a week, that means we spend as much time discussing, analyzing and agonizing over football as we do, you know, actually watching football.

That extends even into the customary postgame handshake. We’ll go over that ritual — no matter how mindless — over and over again, until we’ve exhausted it.

It’s kind of an odd ritual, when you think about it, the postgame handshake. Two squads of 60-plus athletes and coaches have drained virtually every second of an entire week preparing to pound one another’s brains in … and then they’re all supposed to shake hands when it’s over? Really?

Which is why it’s not a surprise when something like this happens: Coach of team that just won taut, intense game comes bounding across the field, vigorously grasps his opposing coach’s hand and slaps him on the back; the opposing coach, understandably riled by such an action, proceeds to react like a starving animal let loose on a chunk of raw meat. Chaos reigns.

(Note: It is important to say, for the record, that though the 49ers’ Jim Harbaugh and the Lions’ Jim Schwarz were quite animated in the confrontation, they did not, in fact, “fight.” They jawed at one another, were separated, and moved on, in the words of Leslie Nielsen, free to pursue a life of religious fulfillment.)

It’s not even nearly the strangest or most disturbing thing that’s happened in a postgame handshake this year: In Ohio, a high school athlete was actually arrested after he somehow managed to conceal a sharp object in his hand and necessitate tetanus shots for more than 25 players on the opposing team. Not even Courtney Upshaw has caused that much damage to his opposition this year.

Every year, somewhere, something happens during a postgame handshake that inevitably triggers a skirmish of some kind. In one famous incident — hilarious to watch on Youtube now — Mississippi State’s Jackie Sherrill popped off to Memphis head coach Tommy West, prompting West to stare down Sherrill like Clint Eastwood from “Fistful of Dollars.” They’re competitors. It happens.

Football games haven’t always ended in handshakes. Once upon a time, both teams just ambled off the field when the game ended, sportsmanship be damned. No amount of copious research — probable translation: I Googled it a few times — could actually turn up when or how the tradition started in the first place.

Each sport has its own postgame ritual. In hockey, the two teams line up at the end of a series to shake; in international soccer, opposing athletes trade jerseys. And there’s baseball, where the winning team shakes hands … with, um, itself. A few years ago, college football attempted to mandate a pregame handshake, which lasted all of about two weeks because it made everyone uncomfortable.

Me, I’m in favor of a mandated handshake — not so much for the sportsmanship display, as for the chance that someone might go berserk and give us a memorable bit of video to last forever.

We tend to run out of things to talk about by Wednesday, otherwise.

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