Shaking hands

Rivalries exist in every sport at every level.

There’s the third Saturday in October when the Alabama Crimson Tide face off against the Tennessee Volunteers – granted, it hasn’t been much of a game the past few years, but it is a rivalry nonetheless.

There’s the Red Sox and Yankees, the Celtics and Lakers, Duke and North Carolina. The list is endless.

While on the field or on the court, tempers flare, taunting comes cheap and more than a few hard hits are made that are not so accidental.

Off the field, though, the rivalry simmers down.

I’m not naive enough to think it disappears completely – I played sports, so I know a rivalry becomes part of your entire lifestyle.

What I’m saying, though, is when the clock hits zero or the last play is made, athletes can be civil with one another.

Whether it is grown men giving each other the half hug after an NFL game or little children giving each other high fives, handshakes after the game are a trademark of sportsmanship.

It shows that we can all get along, we can be humble, we can put our differences behind us.

It shows that there will always be a winner and loser, but in the end it’s about respecting each other and respecting the game.

Sure, there will be grudge matches and revenge. That’s what makes it a rivalry.

But athletes can – and in my opinion, should – still be friends.

There are those outliers who will hate others no matter what, but for the most part, I see friendships between athletes of different teams.

I can still remember winning a state championship game in Coach Pitch league baseball nearly 15 years ago against my biggest hometown rivals.

A few of those players I despised ended up being some of my close friends in high school.

That’s what sportsmanship is. It’s realizing you’re just a player in something bigger than yourself.

As I was growing up, it was a quality instilled in athletes everywhere from the time they were children still learning the game.

Unfortunately, sportsmanship seems to be fading from the game. There are actually rules against it.

I recently found out high schools in Kentucky are being told not to shake hands after games due to too much risk of fights and conflicts.

This is outrageous.

Players need to be taught civility and humility. They need to know how to move on.

Taking away the supreme act of sportsmanship is exactly how not to teach such things.

What’s going to stop players from settling conflicts after the game? How are they going to learn to deal with other life issues?

It is my strong opinion sports provide one of the best avenues for teaching. If we teach players not to shake hands after a high school game that means next to nothing in the long run, how are they going to learn to deal with conflicts when they have jobs and families?

Something has to change. We’re going in the wrong direction.

Rivalries are important. They give fans something to cheer for.

But sportsmanship is what matters most. It’s what truly keeps the game alive.

My blood runs red for Alabama football, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Washington Redskins.

But I still have friends who love Tennessee, the Chicago Cubs and the Dallas Cowboys.

I’ll trash talk on game days and hold victories over their heads.

Or I’ll hang my head on a loss.

In the end, though, I’m a good sport about it.

I’ll shake their hand if they’ll shake mine.

 

Column by Ryan Richardson, Sports Editor