Sonny Fulks
Sonny Fulks
Managing Editor

Sonny Fulks is a graduate of Ohio State University where he pitched four varsity seasons for the Buckeyes from 1971 through 1974. He furthered his baseball experience as a minor league umpire for seven seasons, working for the Florida State League (A), the Southern League (AA), and the American Association (AAA). He has written for numerous websites, and for the past fourteen years has served as columnist and photo editor for The Gettysburg Magazine, published by the University of Nebraska Press, in Lincoln Nebraska. His interests include history, support for amateur baseball, the outdoors, and he has a music degree from Ohio State University.


If you still believe that we’re better than the culture that came before us – that mandatory displays of sportsmanship help create utopian behavior – consider Sunday’s Michigan-Wisconsin basketball game and ask yourself if the expectations aren’t a bit high.

For all of those people who believe – who have believed – that handshake lines at the end of a basketball game are a necessary, and fundamental means of teaching young people about sportsmanship…consider the incident that happened at the end of Sunday’s game between Wisconsin and Michigan.

By now you know what happened, so I’m going to be brief.  I’ve written about this very scenario before on these pages as it reminds me of the writing found in the Old Testament book of Job:  “That which I greatly fear has befallen us.”

Handshake lines, like you saw yesterday, are insincere and unnecessary.  I’d like to believe there’s a benefit, but I’ve seen and heard too much standing nearby.  Thirty kids and coaches slapping hands as they pass by quickly is largely just window dressing.

They’re dangerous, for the very reason of what happened on Sunday. In the height of the moment you don’t ask competitive, emotional adolescents to quickly get control of their emotions and act like statesmen. If you want to do something like this in the name of sportsmanship…give them a cooling off period of 15 minutes, then have them meet with adult supervision.  But that won’t happen because everyone’s in a hurry to get on the bus and get home.

Even then I’m not convinced that saying “Good game” thirty times to thirty people in thirty seconds is making a formative difference.  These are young people who would rather have won the game, because we teach the benefits of winning…than console someone who didn’t.  And truthfully, it isn’t realistic!

The point of all this is not for the kids, I fear.  Rather, it’s a ‘feel good’ for the benefit of the adults sitting in the stands who want to go home believing that athletics is doing something for their kids that they should be doing themselves. Proper behavior should be taught at home.

I’ve heard people say that coaches should be more responsible for teaching kids how to act. But coaches can only supplement the example of what young people see and hear in their natural environment, which is what Juwan Howard has admitted to in the past. If you grow up rough you’re going to act rough as an adult until you decide to change.

In Howard’s case, that’s not an individual I’d expect to be teaching sportsmanship. He has too much history prior to Sunday. A year ago he followed Maryland coach Mark Turgeon off the floor following a game and said he was going to kill him – literally or figuratively, I don’t know.

In Greg Gard’s case (Wisconsin coach), he also is known to have a fiery, competitive personality, and that was seen Sunday as he physically confronted Howard in the handshake line to make some kind of point that could have been made better by phone on Monday.

Howard said that he shouldn’t have been touched by Gard, but when he said that he already had a fistful of Gard’s shirt.

So there’s no legitimacy to either man’s case about the other, other than to say it should never have been given a chance to happen in the first place.

In the state of Kentucky handshake lines have been banned in the past for this very issue…of emotional spillovers after hotly contested games.

There are plenty of examples of fights on YouTube…because that’s what people do on YouTube. They show the worst examples of human behavior after a basketball game to sensationalize  –  something that needs to be shared.

But this is what needs to be shared. If you don’t want this to happen, don’t tempt fate.

Don’t ask adolescents to be more than they’re capable of being, because while you may be sure of how your child will act in that line of ‘high fives’, you don’t know nearly enough about the those from a different school.

Last, I repeat…that there are better ways of doing it if it has to be done.  Do it out of sight, and after a cool down period. It doesn’t have to be window dressing for the sake of the house, and it may not be appropriate at all on a given night.

And while adults are quick to say that  they want kids to play hard and play to win…they need to understand and accept.

It’s not a light switch that you can turn on and off…in a handshake line.