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Is the postgame handshake headed for extinction?

Juwan Howard

In sports, the handshake has traditionally been a means of displaying respect for an opponent.

There are few more inspiring moments in athletics, for instance, than when the two sides in a hockey playoff series, the victors and the vanquished, line up to pay tribute to their foe.

Seeing one-time combatants make their way from person to person to recognize that the time of competition has ended is an important concept, perhaps now more than ever.

In case you hadn’t noticed, self-congratulation and immodesty are increasingly in play around the stadium and the arena.

I watched a women’s basketball game recently where a player scored a basket and yelled “And 1” directly into the face of a referee, meaning she believed she had been fouled on the play.

When the official called a technical foul for unsportsmanlike conduct, the player acted incredulous, as if what she had done was normal.

Perhaps it is. Flipping your bat and standing to watch the majesty of a home run, celebrating a first down with the intensity of a ticker tape parade or using a basketball rim like a pull-up bar after a dunk are all routine behavior during games now.

It’s as if expecting competitors to recognize that the competition is more important than any of the people in it is an impossible standard, like demanding they give a quart of blood, rather than merely acknowledging the humanity of the people on the other side.

In that vein, the behavior of University of Michigan men’s basketball coach Juwan Howard at the end of a game with Wisconsin, sadly, was not out of the ordinary and was to be expected, given the tenor of today’s athletics.

In case you haven’t seen it – and if you haven’t, where have you been? – Howard, a second-year coach and Michigan alum, had just watched the Wolverines lose and badly to the Badgers.

Worse yet, Wisconsin coach Greg Card called a timeout late in the game and with his team leading by double digits, a move that Howard considered to be an attempt to humiliate Michigan by running up the score.

Howard made his displeasure known in such a way that Card felt compelled to explain. Card placed his hand on Howard to try to slow him in the postgame handshake line to deliver said explanation.

The contact was the match that lit Howard’s fire. Naughty words ensued, the benches cleared and Howard, who is 6’10, delivered a slap to a Wisconsin assistant coach, despite being restrained.

The fracas cleared, but not before leaving an indelible stain on the reputation of the programs, and especially on Howard, who immediately delivered a lukewarm explanation for his conduct.

He issued a more thorough and heartfelt apology the next day, but that wasn’t enough to ward off a five-game suspension and $40,000 fine from the Big Ten Conference.

There’s been talk in the aftermath that it’s time for the postgame handshake to go the way of the dinosaur, as if that was the cause of the incivility.

If anything, we’ve reached the point in sports where respect for opponents has to be required as soon as possible. A handshake may only be a gesture, but it’s at least a start.

And that’s how I see it for this week. You can reach us via email with your questions and comments at Sports at Large at gmail.com. And follow me on Twitter at Sports at Large.

Until next week, for all of us here, I’m Milton Kent. Thanks for listening and enjoy the games.

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.