'Good game.' 'Yeah … whatever.'
Our issue today is sportsmanship. I would like to make a point that I think there is such a thing as phony sportsmanship. And it's time we at least discussed putting an end to what's passing for genuine sportsmanship.
Here's what I'm talking about, and I'm sure you've seen it: At the end of most high school games - in whatever sport - the two teams line up in single file and pass each other, with players on both sides slapping palms with their opponents.
It's supposed to show that two teams can meet in competition and then congratulate each other afterward. You know, be good sports.
I have to tell you, right from when this began many years ago, I've hated it. I watch two tired teams pass each other in line with, in many cases, no eye contact and little emotion.
It's quite obvious that most of the participants are going through a formality that's been forced on them. It reminds me of an idea that sounded good and looked even better to some school administrator who never spent much time on a playing field.
At the risk of sounding like an old-timer, I can tell you it wasn't always done this way. In previous times, players handled post-game handshakes in a much different and more genuine manner.
When a game ended, you'd always congratulate teammates first, then head across the field to the opposition. Not in any sort of lineup, but just informally, as a group. Often, you'd meet the other team somewhere around the middle of the field.
At that point, you'd shake hands. Maybe even pat someone on the back. Yes, I know it's a silly, outdated idea, but really - isn't a handshake more meaningful than a handslap? Hasn't all that high-five junk sort of worn itself out? And in those days, you really didn't worry about shaking every hand from the other team - you just did your best.
Often, you went to people you knew or had competed against before and shared a personal word of congratulations - 'Hey, great tackle,' or 'You really pitched a nice game' - and then returned to your bench.
I can remember coaches in those days doing the same thing, taking the time to personally congratulate players and coaches from other teams. I can even remember how much it meant when players or coaches from the other team said something flattering to me.
Those post-game greetings weren't rushed, either. You were allowed to linger with opponents and show them that in spite of the hard-fought game, you respected them and, in some cases, even liked them.
You felt a certain nobility in competing hard, then being able to put the game behind you and share a moment with a competitor who was trying his best to beat you. It was special - and what real sportsmanship is all about.
Certainly a good bit more special than wandering past a long line of dirty uniforms, absently slapping empty palms.