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Youth Sports, High Schools Discontinue Postgame Handshakes

6 Jun, 2020

By: Michael Popke

Dr. Anthony Fauci, considered the leading infectious diseases expert in the United States, proclaimed “I don’t think we should ever shake hands ever again” on a Wall Street Journal podcast in May.

It appears the sports world is paying attention.

“There will be many concessions necessary to resume athletic competition, and shaking hands is one that must cease – at least for now,” wrote Karissa Niehoff, executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations, in her weekly opinion column.

Instead, she offered such alternatives as “a slight bow with the palms pressed together, an air high-five, a smile and quick wave, a double-tap of the right hand across the heart and a wink with the thumbs up.” Niehoff also suggested “teams could develop their own methods for demonstrating sportsmanship to their opponents and celebrating big plays or victories with teammates.”

Little League officials agree with the NFHS. In a detailed “Season Resumption Guide,” the organization emphatically states there will be “no handshakes/personal contact celebrations.”

“Players and coaches should take measures to prevent all but the essential contact necessary to play the game,” according to the new on-field guidance. “This should include refraining from handshakes, high fives, fist/elbow bumps, chest bumps, group celebrations, etc. Little League International suggests lining up outside the dugout and tipping caps to the opposing team as a sign of good sportsmanship after a game. Players and families should vacate the field/facility as soon as is reasonably possible after the conclusion of their game to minimize unnecessary contact with players, coaches, and spectators from the next game, ideally within 15 minutes.”

“We spent a lot of time consulting with people,” Little League president Stephen Keener said during a roundtable discussion in May hosted by U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) about youth baseball and softball leagues safely resuming play. “We had access to … medical professionals, certainly the CDC, and we’ve talked with numerous public health officials both at the state level and the federal level. Essentially what we’ve come up with [are] best practices [for] resuming play when it’s safe to do so.”

In Liberty Township, Ohio, representatives of the Flag Football Fanatics league told local media that are considering several options to keep players and fans safe — including no post-game handshakes, as well as implementation of socially distant sidelines, masks for the players and fans, and stocking up on sanitizer and disinfectant.

Adult leagues are abandoning postgame handshakes, too. Senior Softball USA recently issued new safety guidelines for returning to play. They include no handshakes, and “players must linger out of the dugout and behind any fencing, if necessary, to maintain six feet of social distancing,” according to TIME.com. “Masks in the dugout are encouraged, but not required. Catchers must cover their nose and mouth. Umpires must wear face shields or masks. There won’t be communal water jugs.”

Those new protocols are expected to implemented at the Missouri Open, a Senior Softball USA event that is still slated for early June. TIME.com reports there are at least seven 70-and-over teams registered to play in the Missouri Open. Older people are among the most vulnerable when it comes to contracting and dying from the coronavirus.

“It kind of boggles my mind,” Arthur Caplan, director of the Division of Medical Ethics at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, told TIME.com about the wisdom of hosting a softball tournament for older men so early in the reopening phase. “It’s not the responsible thing to do.”

Amidst all of the upheaval regarding efforts to jumpstart sports with social distancing measures in place, at least one high school basketball coach disagrees with the NFHS directive to disallow post-game handshakes. Here is what Todd Wilson, basketball coach at St. Francis High School in La Cañada Flintridge, Calif., wrote when the Los Angeles Times asked him to elaborate about why he objects:

Once we are cleared to resume basketball, I am going to get back onto the court with my team. We will take extreme precautions to keep everyone safe and follow CDC, WHO and guidelines set by the NFHS. Eventually, in the near future, we are going to get cleared to play basketball games again. And once we are cleared, it is going to be extremely difficult to tell my team to not shake hands when the game is over. Shaking hands is the respect that the game deserves, and our opponent deserves. Every year, we practice how we shake hands with the other team when the game is over.

Many may be upset and say, “You’re going to spread germs, your players shouldn’t do that!”

If we are cleared to play basketball games, my team will be diving on the floor for loose balls, we will be setting screens, we will be boxing out and we will be taking charges. We will be running and sweating and standing within inches of our opponent … because that’s how basketball is played. How am I going to justify to my team to play as hard as they can and dive on the floor for a ball but not shake the opponent’s hand when the game is over? This doesn’t make much sense to me in so many ways. . . .

If it’s not safe enough for my players to shake hands, I don’t want my players setting a screen or diving on the floor. If it’s not safe for my players to set a screen or dive on the floor, I don’t want them shaking hands. If the CDC and WHO says it’s OK to play a full-contact basketball game, then we will be shaking hands, because we will always teach respect.

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