I was sitting in a hotel lobby surrounded by other people when I opened up my morning news alerts and saw an article announcing the Kentucky High School Athletic Associations' decision to suspend post-game handshakes, so I had to keep my disgust to a minimum - a casual eye roll and understated sigh. Seriously? These athletes are displaying poor sportsmanship, and the solution to that is to do away with the concept? That's like dropping math from the curriculum because the students aren't getting it.
Not that I've ever considered the obligatory post-game handshake a shining example of exemplary sportsmanship, but if the bar is set so low these days that simply not getting into a fight with another player during those few seconds is cause for celebration, you take what you can get. As far as I'm concerned, though, you can't have sports without sportsmanship. The Mongols made it work, but I'd like to think we're a little more civilized.
People complain about the wussification (to borrow a word from a coworker) of youth today - the "awards for participation," the leagues that don't keep score - and while I'll agree that people can get too caught up in such things, I think more often the criticisms are driven by a lack of appreciation or respect for the concept of sportsmanship.
I'm not against competition, but we're living in a "win at all cost" society, and it seems that that cost is sportsmanship. Athletes can't be civil and polite after a football game? Do whatever it takes to make sure the game still gets played! If it were my decision, it would go the other way. If you can't be civil during a handshake, you shouldn't be allowed to play. If it's such a widespread issue, I'm all for shutting down entire teams or programs.
I was relieved this morning to read that the KHSAA had "clarified" that "poorly worded" press release to say that it simply recommended monitoring post-game handshakes and that a fine would be imposed on schools if a fight breaks out. But it's still the wrong decision, a bandaid for the real issue. High school students should be capable of conducting themselves in a manner that conveys respect for each other and the principles of the game. They shouldn't need to be monitored, and they shouldn't need to have their hands held. Moreover, how does imposing a fine on the school teach the athletes anything about sportsmanship or consequences? Unless they're feeling the direct negative impact of their decisions, they're never going to learn anything.
High school athletes these days have spent too much time focusing on the competition and not enough on comporting themselves with decency and respect for each other. It's not just going to translate into a problem after games, or even a problem on the field. Involvement in sports has a measurable positive impact on youth development, but if we continue to devalue everything but the competitive aspect, that impact is going to become increasingly negative.