When handshakes turn ugly . . .
By MIKE SMITH
After the recent "assault" incident at a Bowling Green vs. Memphis WNIT game, I am revisiting my own personal debate about postgame handshake lines.
I really have strong feeling for and against the tradition, but the practical side of my brain is certainly threatening to take charge. If it does, that would be in favor of discontinuing what should be a simple act of sportsmanship.
The problem is that the practice is becoming both less simple and . . .
. . . less sporting. I regard that as a reflection of our less civil society -- and shame on us if we are contributing to THAT mess.
For the record, Bowling Green and Memphis had just finished a Women's WNIT basketball game Thursday at the Stroh Center in Bowling Green. The hosting Falcons prevailed 73-60, ending Memphis' season.
During the postgame handshake line, an apparent altercation took place with BGSU student-athlete Elissa Brett going down right in front of the scorers table. It's a little difficult to get a clear view from the camera angle, but there is enough to see if you want to check out this WTOL link HERE
Given that it happened outside the game itself, it added another serious layer to the incident. BGSU police have charged Memphis student-athlete Jamirah Shutes with assault, and the case is being investigted in conjunction with the City of Bowling Green prosecutor.
Both schools have issued statements, of course. Fortuntely, Brett is reported to be recovering and doing fine. The Falcons are due to meet Florida -- again at the Stroh Center -- Monday (6 p.m. ET).
I have nearly 20 years of high school softball coaching experience, let alone any other sports. That is a lot of postgame handshake lines, but I recall less than a handful of "troublesome" incidents. In one, late in the game, I could feel the potential for an outright brawl. With the rosters both teams had that year, it could have been a real Donnybrook. I touched base with the opposing coach, and we just skipped the line that particular year.
At least in my experience, I've noticed how "ugly" incidents seem to be more prevalent at the end of seasons -- and/or toward the end of a year. I'm guessing there is some thought that there is less to lose in terms of discipline.
Personally, I wouldn't force a player to walk through a post-game handshake line. I think being able to lose -- or win -- and shake hands afterward is a sign of strength. Hockey handshakes after a hard-fought Stanley Cup game come to mind. Those guys put everything they have into every minute they have on the ice. It gets rough -- no doubt about it.
Of course, I have seen one or two high school games where a player might intentionally "skip" an opponent in line. That alone can lead to issues. I guess I would prefer they shake all the hands if possible. Hey, if somebody skips you, just move on. Guess what -- not everybody is going to like you in life.
Young people can make some bad decisions along the way, especially when they get frustrated. That handshake line often happen before athletes have had a chance to cool down. Short of ending the line altogether, I guess I would encourage coaches to tell their student-athletes:
That line represents both the spirit of competition and the strength of ALL competitors. You are respecting that competition and the efforts of participants with the handshake. However, if you can't say something good, don't say anything. If you can't control yourself in the moment, skip that moment and regroup.
For what it's worth, I'm sure that have been games where coaches didn't shake hands afterward. Maybe for that moment and situation, its just the best alternative.
On a given day, civility and competition can be a tricky mix. However, the more we show are strength at handling both, the better we represent ourselves and our programs.
At one point during Covid, I suspected postgame handshakes would disappear for good. It seemed like such a relief when we were "allowed" to resume the practice. Can we keep the line going?
Editor-Publisher Mike Smith
Mike grew up in Mid-American Conference football and basketball territory and returned there after military service. He has been covering MAC football and men's basketball for much of the last several decades.