LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Now, for this week's sign of the times. The Kentucky High School Athletic Association has decided to kill the post-game handshake.
Too many incidents, the KHSAA said in a new rules directive released on Tuesday. More than two dozen incidents in this state the past three years, in fact, according to the document produced by the commissioner's office, which directs schools to no longer sanction post-game interaction.
"Unfortunately, the adrenaline and effort required to participate in the sport sometimes seems to deplete the supply of judgement (sic) available to participants," the directive says. "And this can be particularly problematic when there is a lack of an appropriate level of adult supervision, or counterproductive actions by the adults involved with the team."
The KHSAA didn't so much ban the post-game handshake as wash its hands of it. This column is not to criticize the KHSAA's actions. Commissioner Julian Tackett has told schools they are not to have organized post-game handshakes, and that if they do have them and incidents arise, then the schools themselves are liable for the damages. It also gives the KHSAA a vehicle whereby it may fine schools that act inappropriately. Read the directive here.
It doesn't ban players from voluntarily shaking hands or interacting after games. It does, however, get the state and the schools out of the handshake business.
And that's a problem. I get it. The tone of this directive isn't subtle or hidden. It points the finger as much at the grown-ups as at the players. Just a month ago a coach at an Alabama high school quit for his role in a post-game brawl. On Sept. 14 a fight between two teams that spread to its fans, and even into the parking lot, erupted in Madison, Wis. A 15-year-old was arrested on charges of battery to a police officer, of which at least 27 were needed to restore order.
But the KHSAA's decision calls into question just where we are these days in our country and in our schools. Emotions have always run high at sporting events. There was a time, in fact, that there was no post-game handshake at all. But as it has developed, the post-game handshake was a symbol that, while the game is important, it's not as important as what you do when you leave the field of play.
People will look at this directive and wonder what has happened to our youth. The fault, however, lies not with the kids, but with the grown-ups. The kids aren't getting much of an example.
In Washington D.C., rather than doing their jobs and running the country, the leaders of our government have shut the whole thing down. Why? Because if you can't win, you act out, you withdraw, and certainly you can't offer respect to or compromise with the other side -- even if that's what this country was built on.
The NCAA wonders why players would skirt rules and sell autographs, after it has spent decades selling itself to the highest bidder.
When leaders stop showing the way, you can't blame the kids for what happens.
And in too many cases today, it's the coaches and other adults themselves who are causing the post-game problems.
"It is disappointing that this action has become necessary, but enough incidents have occurred both in our state and in others, that the necessity has arrived," the directive says.
We've elevated sports in this country to an unhealthy place, and I say that as someone who has done more than his share of elevating.
I know some view the post-game handshake as a "useless tradition." But it's important if only because of the example it presents. It's just a game. If we can't shake hands after a game, where exactly can we work together? Should anyone be surprised that we slip further into dysfunction?
I remember playing basketball with my dad out on our dirt patch of a court in Bagdad, Ky., when I was a kid. On occasions when he'd beat me, I'd get so angry I couldn't take it. He'd extend his hand, and I'd storm off, into the house.
None of us likes to lose. Most of us, at some point, grow up and learn to do it with something resembling grace.
I know what the KHSAA is doing with this directive. As a public body, it can't leave itself and the state open to liability from what might happen if a post-game situation gets out of hand. It has to get the word out that it does not sanction these handshakes after games, and in fact directs schools not to organize them. The KHSAA isn't the cause of this. It's simply a sanctioning body for a group of schools that, apparently, includes a small number that are losing control.
It's probably good policy.
But it's a bad example. You can't idiot-proof the world. You can fire adults -- not reprimand, but relieve -- coaches who step out of line. You can get your hands dirty with actually teaching kids, instead of washing your hands of responsibility. You can commit to kicking a little tail instead of worrying about covering it. Don't misunderstand. I'm not talking about abuse or drill-sergant type stuff. I'm just talking about a hard line on things that matter, like civil behavior.
We have sports in high schools not, first and foremost, to win games, but to teach. Sure, you learn to win. But you also learn to compete, to work, to strive, to persevere and, yes, even to lose.
If we can't teach our kids (and their coaches) to simply show respect after a competition, what exactly can we teach them?
I'm with Sports Illustrated's E.M. Swift, who wrote about this same topic way back in 1994 for the magazine.
"Far better to keep the handshake," he wrote, "and, if necessary, eliminate the games."
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