Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Obnoxious Jim Harbaugh: Poor Sportmanship and the Handshake Seen 'Round the World

On Monday I posted about the Jim Harbaugh handshake incident. For those of you who missed that post or related news coverage, after the Lions and 49ers game this Sunday, winning San Francisco head coach Harbaugh was a little too amped up during the post-game handshake for the liking of Detroit's Jim Schwartz. Antics ensued.

A few more thoughts on the incident:

Harbaugh failed to check his emotions before greeting his opponent. He in effect continued to celebrate his win in the presence of Schwartz, which no doubt left Schwartz feeling as though Harbaugh were rubbing it in -- just as I felt watching the encounter live. It puzzles me that anyone could view the footage and not understand how Schwartz would be ass-chafed by Harbaugh's attitude.

On Monday morning, ESPN radio personality Colin Cowherd defended Harbaugh, comparing the incident to March Madness games wherein jubilant coaches must "turn off their emotions" to exchange pleasantries with their "loser" counterparts. The overall message was that winners can celebrate however they please without regard for the losers.

Does such a viewpoint hold up? What if all victors acted like Harbaugh? To put his behavior in context, let's consider how other celebrated leaders would have looked, had they reacted to winning as old Jim did on Sunday. With a nod to one of my favorite flash-in-the-pan websites, Sad Don Draper, let's look at Obnoxious Jim Harbuagh:

Considering how often football draws comparisons to warfare, let's kick things off with Yorktown:

We can't have it both ways. Sports pundits love to wax poetic about the transcendence of sports and how football isn't a game but a community ritual, a gladiatorial spectacle, a shared rite that triggers the tribalism in our DNA and thus strengthens our cultural bonds on regional and national levels. We learn a little about football and a lot about ourselves, as the old chestnut goes. Football teaches young men discipline, loyalty and the virtues of the collective, while instructing spectators about themselves both as individuals and a people.

You can't subscribe to all that only to turn around and say that it doesn't matter if you act like a horse's ass, as long as you win. Unless we've finally reached the point where it really doesn't matter. If sports do indeed reflect our culture, perhaps it makes sense that you can do whatever you want, regardless of how it impacts other people, as long as you win. After all, there are plenty of people who feel that civility in society now runs at an all-time low. If members of the general population fail to act with restraint, it only makes since for a celebrated leader to show an equal disregard for others.

So what about it? Is there room for good sportsmanship? If sports mirror society and society has room for civility, shouldn't there be room for civility in sports -- and wouldn't the tradition of the post-game handshake be a good place to foster that civility? Or should we just get it over with and allow winning NFL teams to sacrifice the opposition's long snapper on the 50-yard line after the game?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ideas for This Year's Trick-or-Treat Costume

Kaitlyn Kesler, high-school journalist, posted yesterday about trick-or-treating etiquette, with particular attention paid to those who don't bother to wear costumes but appear at your house anyway, demanding candy. She writes:
Last Halloween, someone who was clearly in high school showed up on my doorstep on Halloween wearing a t-shirt and jeans.  No mask, no makeup, not even a cape.  When I asked him what he was supposed to be, he claimed to be dressed as “a high school student.”  Creative, right?
Creative indeed! This got me thinking about how I could pass off trick-or-treating while wearing my usual clothes, so I've come up with the following ideas. Please leave a comment noting your favorite and we'll go with the most popular.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Football Etiquette: Jim Harbaugh and the Post-Game Handshake

Yesterday morning I watched football of the English variety before heading to a friend's house for some NFL. When the Lions and 49ers game ended with a dust-up between the two coaches due to a perceived breach of post-game etiquette, I couldn't help but contrast the behavior of 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh with the typical interaction between managers following an English football match.

Here's the basic breakdown:

Top photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images Europe

In England, post-match handshakes receive intense scrutiny when they involve football's more fully developed personalities, such as Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger. Journalists are always on the lookout for the slightest signs of a snub, and when a handshake is refused outright, it doesn't take a keen eye to notice the fallout. This month a Tottenham coach got into it with Wenger when the latter failed to shake hands, and two years ago Wenger allegedly committed similar affronts against manager Phil Brown. Writing about the Brown incidents, journalist Phil White noted that, at least according to the film The Damned United, legendary English football skipper Brian Clough carried a years-long vendetta when Phil Revie failed to press the flesh prior to a cup match.

The post-match handshake between NFL coaches rarely commands such attention. It's just something coaches do. There's no coded messages transmitted by a refusal to make eye-contact, or nuanced meanings to take away when one party offers a claw grip rather than standard extended hand. We Americans are, after all, more straightforward -- some might say "blunt" -- than our cross-Atlantic cousins. The NFL handshake has become routine, devoid of meaning -- a formality. 

And that's exactly what makes Jim Harbaugh's treatment of Lions coach Jim Schwartz so obnoxious. As you can see in this video, after greeting one of his players with a triumphant (if errant) flying chest bump, Harbaugh launches himself at Schwartz before pounding the Detroit coach on the back. 

Schwartz responded verbally before tracking down Harbaugh and squaring up. Kevin Seifert of ESPN called this reaction "lunacy," an assessment that I in turn find insane. I was actually proud of Schwartz, and here's why:

Before taking a hiatus from this blog, the big question that I constantly returned to, post after post, was, "How should one respond to rude behavior?" Is it better to let rudeness slide and turn the other cheek, or should one point out the behavior and therein risk exhibiting behavior that's just as bad -- if not worse -- than the original affront itself?

In this case Schwartz took the latter route, and I applaud him for it. When greeting a defeated foe, you chill. It's what Schwartz referred to in his post-game remarks as "decorum." Far from chill, Harbaugh displayed all the exuberance of a newly initiated fraternity pledge. Was Schwartz a poor sport in return? Possibly, but had he done nothing, Harbaugh might well have continued to act like a jerk to his colleagues in subsequent games. One imagines he'll now consider conducting himself with a bit more civility when leaving the sidelines to greet a bested opponent.

P.S. If you happen to be an English footballer reading this, and you're wondering, "If I have sexual relations with an opponent's girlfriend, can I expect him to refuse to shake my hand before the match," the answer is, "Yes. Yes you can."

Thursday, September 1, 2011

El Fin (Mas o Menos)

This will be the last Incivilian post, probably for good, although I reserve the right to return on occasion to once again bore everyone to tears. 

Special thanks to chocolat lover and Jennifer D for their active support, as well as all the quiet but loyal lurkers. I really appreciated everyone taking the time to check out the site.

If you enjoy my serviceable writing and god-awful cartoons, you can continue to get a heaping helping of both, here:

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Everything That's Right With Etiquette Guides

Last time we talked about everything that's wrong with etiquette guides, namely that they don't tell us anything new about the interactions they address. It's all well and good for a food-festival guide to advise people to stand out of the way of others. But standing out of the way of others is also applicable to subways, escalators, elevators, music shows and firing ranges. There's nothing specific to food festivals about watching where you place your body in relation to other people. It's common sense.

Etiquette guides establish rules to address bad behavior. With each new form of interaction, there comes new behaviors and thus new misbehaviors and thus new etiquette guides. For everything. Like pink-salmon fishery etiquette.

I licked my chops when I saw this guide pop up. What could better prove my point that etiquette guides have jumped the shark than a list of rules about salmon fishing? Imagine my surprise then, to find that it contained some helpful information.

The author focuses on the angler's "responsibility" to three entities: first and foremost to the fish, then to other anglers and lastly to snorkelers and other watergoing folk. So, basically respect the fish and respect other people. But unlike other etiquette guides, this one actually offers new information, by breaking down how to handle a hooked fish when deciding whether it's a keeper, in such a way as to not damage the catch (any more than you already have by ripping a hook through the poor creature's face):
The rule of thumb is to bring the fish into the shallows, cup it gently by its belly and lift it just out of the water to identify whether it's a keeper or not. If it's not, then take out the hook and let it go. Swishing it back in forth in the shallows will fill its gills with sediment. Best to just let it go.
Granted, the rest of the guide pertains to common sense (don't litter the area; don't cast your hook in the direction of other human beings), but this one instance marks the first time in ages that I've come across valuable information in an etiquette guide.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Everything That's Wrong With Etiquette Guides

Yesterday Elina Shatkin published a post titled "Top 5 Food Festival Etiquette Rules" for LA Weekly.

The rules in question:
  1. Get Out of the Way! (i.e. after receiving food, don't eat directly in front of food booths so to obstruct path of those behind you)
  2. One Sample Per Person
  3. Don't Cut in Line
  4. Servers Are People Too
  5. Stay Home
When I say we need less etiquette and more awareness, this is exactly what I'm talking about. The overall message of the piece is "Pay attention to how your actions impact other people." At least, that should be the message, but it's obscured by pointing out individual, common scenarios that result from unawareness. With this approach of pointing out symptoms rather than discussing the cause, you could go on all day. To be sure, etiquette experts do just that, leaving us up to our necks in etiquette guides on everything from triathlon swim training to interacting with the disabled, while the uncivil behaviors that the guides purport to address continue, rampant.

Elina might as well have included a sixth rule that says, "If you're a lovable NBA mascot well-known for his 'spilled jumbo bag of popcorn' routine, and your're attending a food festival on a motorized bike, and if police stop you and ask you to dismount said bike, do not assault said officers." But we don't need that rule pointed out, either, because Benny should have known better, just as everyone attending L.A. food festivals should know that there are other people present, and that these other people are entitled to an equal share of resources.

We don't need to walk around trying to remember five different rules. We need to remain aware of one thing: "Everything I do impacts others. What kind of impact do I want to make?" If we can remain mindful of that one thing, we can attend food festivals, music festivals, baby-jumping festivals -- or meet the Queen Mum -- and come away smelling like a dew-laden rose. 

Up next: Everything's that's right with etiquette guides. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Weed Etiquette (Don't Bogart That J)

Kate Sedgwick at Matador published a really nice article titled "Worldwide weed etiquette: When is it bogarting?" The article discusses the differences in joint-rolling styles between the U.S. and other parts of the world, and how these differences shape our view of rude and polite group-smoking behavior.

Americans visiting England quickly learn that our cross-Atlantic cousins consider rolling a joint using all marijuana to be excessive, wasteful and slovenly. They prefer the proper spliff, which one constructs by sticking together two rolling papers (using a third to adhere the undersides of the conjoined pair); breaking a cigarette and sprinkling the tobacco over the paper; sprinkling weed over the tobacco; rolling the whole dealie into a slender, elegant J; and finally tearing off a hunk of the cardboard rolling-paper flap and rolling it into a cylinder, which one inserts into the end of the spliff as makeshift filter.

This tobacco/weed hybrid means that passing a J between friends becomes more relaxed. As the article mentions,
If you’re smoking a spliff (pot and tobacco mixed), the mixture is less precious and there’s less concern about wasting bud as you stand around and shoot the shit while it burns. Even the most mellow American stoner is likely to feel a little angst in these moments, watching half the joint burn skyward, the buzz potential that smoke represents harshing a great mel.
Conversely, a visiting Brit might find our joint-rolling method barbaric, and the resultant "puff, puff, pass" rule unfriendly and harried.

This is why I'm interested in civility: It touches every aspect of our lives, as does its absence.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Private Parking Sign for Jay Remer (And You Too)

On Twitter I follow a gent named Jay Remer. Earlier this week Jay tweeted that someone parked in his private spot -- and if memory serves, the offender even took a nap in the driver's seat. Today Jay asked if anyone had ideas for a "private parking" sign. This is my suggestion. Jay, and anyone else who struggles with this problem, should feel free to use this sign.

Signs that yell NO PARKING or NO TRESPASSING seem confrontational, and might even egg on an offender who has something to prove. But our sign gets the point across without pounding its chest. Humor succeeds where yelling fails.