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?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this article! I enjoyed it! I'm torn over whether teams should continue this tradition or not. On the one hand, it's respect for other teams. On the other, what's the point? There's a good discussion of this over at TC Huddle. I found your article looking for more opinions on this.

    This is a good article. Thanks! Here's the article that led me here if you're interested. It's enjoyable if nothing else.