Post-game handshake provides perspective

The University of New Mexico Lobos men’s basketball team is having a great season under the leadership of new head coach Craig Neal. The talent and drive of this year’s team was certainly on display in its victory last weekend against the then-No. 6 ranked San Diego State Aztecs.

The celebration of an impressive Lobo win before a loud crowd of more than 15,000 fans was marred, however, by unsportsmanlike pushing by players during the traditional post-game handshake line. The players were quickly separated before anything worse could develop, but that was followed by a couple of Lobos fans tossing a water bottle and a cup of water at Aztecs players. An Aztecs player also threw a towel into the stands.

Neal, who helped point out one of the fans accused of throwing something, quickly and firmly criticized the reaction, saying, “We don’t do that here.”

So far, so good.

But when it came to addressing the pushing incident in the handshake line, he apparently let the excitement of winning a hard-fought game get the best of him. Or at least that’s giving him the benefit of the doubt.

“Handshake lines aren’t good,” Neal said. “I still don’t understand them. When two competitive teams go to war — they’re not nice. I don’t know what happened, but I was just trying to get my team out of there.”

First, handshake lines are a good tradition. It’s an exercise in sportsmanship that is embedded in our culture from Little League to the NCAA. Win or lose, they give opposing players and coaches the chance to face each other respectfully after a tough competition.

Second, and more importantly, the handshake ritual reinforces the idea that what just finished was, after all, just a game.

It definitely was not “war.” The many military veterans who experienced combat in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq and who were in the Pit crowd that night would likely agree.

It’s a tradition that’s good for the players and keeps things in perspective. After all, despite mega salaries for coaches and millions of dollars of TV revenue for big-time college athletic programs, it really is just a game.


— Albuquerque Journal