–Kenny Rice

This week my home state of Kentucky has received national attention, and in several circles, much consternation over a decision by the State High School Athletic Association to ban post game handshakes. Since the hubbub began, there is now a modification by the Association urging schools to use their own discretion, but to closely monitor the pressing of flesh after heated athletic competition.

Before this gets any more out of hand, this is a thumbs down to all who immediately pooh-pooh what is a legitimate concern, and intent by the Commissioner Julian Tackett and others in making and amending the decision. These forced rituals are not the meaning of sportsmanship and the timing of such perfunctory motions are almost always a bit dicey–for high school, college, and professional athletes.

You just got humiliated 56-0 by a school that has more money and entices better athletes to come to their district. You just lost in the final second of a gut-wrenching, back-and-forth game to the arch rival; now you have to prove that you are a good person, a sports person, by lining up to touch someone you were trying to knock down minutes ago?

I’m surprised by two things: 1) More states haven’t done this, 2) The sanctimonious indignation of some media members over it, who will be mesmerized with a brawl on the field yet write how appalled they were with it all.

It’s not always a gesture of respect and even the victors aren’t above some whispered taunts through masqueraded smiles of “sportsmanship.” Commissioner Tackett had that in mind, I am sure, when he declared it was time to shake up the handshake protocol. Thumbs up to him for being realistic and understanding that most kids today can’t communicate any feeling requiring more than 140 characters. In an emotional settings of athletic competition, with no iPhone in hand, conveying any form of feeling could turn into trouble.

Two years ago, almost to the day (October 9, 2011), I wrote about some other blow ups over the extending of arms with open palms. It also appears in my ebook “Not Hit Yet,” and in light of recent developments, is worthy of revisiting, I mean, you know only in the hopes of good sportsmanship for all.

From most accounts, it dates back to ancient Greece as most things seem to do. It was especially important in the time of the Knights of the Round Table to do this, and show there were no weapons in their hand. It is widely believed that Sir Walter Raleigh brought this custom to the new land in the late 16th Century, probably introducing it to the stunned Native Americans.

It is a friendship gesture, a sportsmanship gesture, and a general ‘I mean you no harm, or have anything up my sleeve,’ gesture.

It’s the handshake. Perhaps your dad told you to do it firmly, and look the person in the eye as the hands touch. It’s a respect thing.

Boxers and MMA fighters do it still by touching gloves, a courtesy, a sign of respect. ‘I am going to try to hurt you as much as possible in these next few minutes, but it doesn’t mean I disrespect you or hate you.’ It goes back to the Marquess of Queensberry, a.k.a. John Douglas, who did not come up with the famous standard rules of boxing, but endorsed them. And as it was and is in England, having a title gives one power to take credit for ideas. They were actually written by Welshman John Graham Chambers and there was a time in boxing when “shake hands and come out fighting” really meant something. The ultra-tough era of bare knuckle men like John Corbett, John L. Sullivan, and Jack Johnson. Not having anything but a palm in one’s hand was critical in knowing before the fight started.

But what in the wide, wide world of sports is going on with what used to be such a simple act? Football lately is making MMA look like the tamest most gentlemanly of endeavors. Two guys can’t simply congratulate the other after an intense contest. Maybe that’s what we’ve become as a society.

Honestly, I have long felt the perfunctory shaking of hands after a sporting contest is a recipe for disaster, and I am pleasantly surprised that all out brawls haven’t ensued from what looks like on the surface, to be a noble deed. After all, right after the heat of battle, thoughts of why didn’t we do this or that from the loser, and look what we’ve done from the winner, have all the ingredients of anger, confusion, heartbreak, and exaltation mixed in.

On second thought, maybe this speaks well of us as a society, the simple handshake still matters. At least to the athletes and men do hug more now than ever, an acceptable practice of friendship. MMA like Hollywood, has a lot of huggers, and that’s a welcomed addition in the showing of appreciation for one another. Hugging might be easier than handshaking, at least more sincere. Ever get that limp noodle, that cold fish shake? That’s more disrespectful than none at all. But over the weekend, there were two separate incidents where coaches had to be separated, showing that the older we get, the less control of composure seems to occur. Saturday after the Vanderbilt-Georgia football game, Commodores coach James Franklin had more than a few choice words to say to Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham during this post game ritual.

On a much bigger scale in the NFL, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh added a slap on the back to his handshake with Lions coach Jim Schwartz prompting the Detroit head man to chase the San Francisco coach down the field, where it took players and public relations men to keep them apart. How civil the combative sports are beginning to look, well aside from the Strikeforce debacle in Nashville and a few other boxing aftermaths. Okay, it just happens… There is the macho element, the simply disgusted element, and the excessive ego element. There are too many variables, with too many issues to break it all down.

It just isn’t like the old days, because few things are, and the ability to communicate in a sportsman-like fashion is leaving town faster than the Edsel, the dial up phone, and actually holding a book in your hand while you read.

Maybe if the ancient Greeks could have texted each other, or dropped an email after an event, we would have never shaken hands. Maybe that’s what sports might be coming to now. “CYA ” “CT” “GGLOL” “WTF” “THX” “WP” “WTG” “WDYM” but probably not “WNTT &SH.”



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