Viewpoint Sportsmanship still matters
The 13-second video clip starts with the game officials shaking hands with the four captains of the New Britain High football team. It ends with those four players refusing an official’s request to shake hands with the Southington High captains.
That’s it. Only 13 seconds. Yet after Pete Paguaga of GameTimeCT tweeted out the video he took during the mid-field coin toss before Southington’s 27-24 victory Friday night, the spectrum of responses made it evident the video was 12 seconds longer than the time needed for an appropriate reaction.
“Sportsmanship is part of what we try to do at the high school level, and that’s not what we want projected out there,” New Britain athletic director Len Corto said. “It won’t happen again.”
That is the appropriate response.
From there we can have a healthy discussion on circumstance and intent and the degree of indignation. This story that has struck a nerve with high school fans across the state starts with four New Britain captains, but it certainly does not end with them.
Former Southington captains did the same thing to Cheshire during the coin flip at the 2016 Thanksgiving game. It’s there on video, too. In 2014, Randy Edsall issued an apology after his Maryland captains did the same to Penn State. There is video of St. Thomas More captains shaking hands with Choate on Sept. 15 before the coin flip and one of the More players refusing a handshake a second time after they lined up to show who was defending what goal.
There isn’t corroborating video to document each case in high school. Yet it’s pretty clear it happens. New Britain wasn’t the first team in Connecticut to refuse a handshake, but it should be the last.
This isn’t the end of the world. No coaches should have been fired on the spot, or kids thrown off the team. New Britain didn’t deserve to lose.
Yet what must be made clear to team captains is that their act of bravado or intimidation or gamesmanship can be caught on social media and lead to negative interpretations that reflect on them for far more than 13 seconds.
What must be made clear to them is they aren’t only representing themselves, they are representing their school and community. And if you are seen as reflecting poorly on them, you aren’t being ultra-competitive. You’re being selfish.
If they still don’t get the message? They lose their captaincy and face escalating punishment. Coaches should be held accountable.
“I don’t think that’s a big deal,” Paguaga said on a GameTimeCT podcast. “Actually, If we’re being honest, I love that. I absolutely love that move (by New Britain).
“You haven’t beaten a team in nine years. If not shaking their hands gives you a little bit of swagger that’s going to help motivate you to win this game, then do it. Who cares?”
Really disagree with Pete on this one. And I am uncomfortable with some of the tone during the ensuing discussion among my three GameTimeCT colleagues. If you refuse to shake hands before a high school football game, there is a problem and adults in the room need to address it.
The great majority of teenagers do not go on to play in college. High school sports are not only about the wins and losses or only about sportsmanship. They are about both and much more. They are about learning to hone skills, learning to work as a team, learning how to accept and build on successes and failures, learning how to discipline yourself to be tough mentally and physically and learning how to deal with opponents.
Did you see the common word? Learning. The lessons are all applicable to life.
It’s a good thing that New Britain and Southington did shake hands after a terrific game. Both teams proved themselves as strong ones. Yet this idea that respect has to be earned and not given is problematic. Some want to eradicate handshake lines after games. A nasty fight after a Norwalk-Trinity Catholic freshman game, for instance, broke out last winter in a postgame line. A freshman game! So do we throw up our hands and say, “Since we can’t control our kids, let them be bad sports. Let them be punks”? Of course not.
After I tweeted Friday this wasn’t the kind of behavior the CIAC should encourage, one young man tweeted back for me to grow up. I told him I’d like to shake his hand and talk about civility and how one little act of respect can lead to bigger acts of respect. His response was he’d be glad to and share with me what it’s like to go to war for 60 minutes with your brothers. That I was soft, clearly had never played the game or had a dying passion or love for it. That respect is earned, not given.
Football isn’t war. It’s a game. Always will be. High school athletics isn’t the WWE, UFC or NFL, let alone wars where our real heroes have died.
This has nothing to do with being soft or Kumbaya. Shake hands, beat your block and use proper technique to sack the quarterback first play. Trying to act tough is one thing. Being tough and disciplined is quite another.
Corto said there was a meeting with the captains. He said the coaches had not known the handshake refusal would happen.
Said Corto, “The kids said, ‘We didn’t mean it as disrespect. We didn’t want to shake their hands at the beginning of the game. We shook their hands at the end.’ Obviously, they were upset they lost, but there were no hard feelings (directed at Southington).
“We told them when you’re out there for the coin toss and introduced to the other captains, definitely shake their hands. If you notice, our players were all holding each other’s arms. They were trying to show their unity going into the game, but really that was about the only explanation they had.”
Respect means to have a level of admiration for someone for their achievements or qualities. The word disrespect means to show lack of respect or courtesy. There are a couple of different meanings here. There should be great joy in being able to compete in a game in the first place. It’s a privilege. Even if the courtesy of “Good luck,” is half-hearted, the aspiration “Let the best man or woman win,” should be whole-hearted. You honor an opponent, you honor yourself. Got it? Nothing good is going to come out of trying to stare somebody down at the next coin toss. Eventually a shoving match will break out.
You want to see everybody shake hands? Announce there will be no season if you don’t at the next coin toss.
The CIAC has put much time and effort into its Class Act initiative and there are standards schools agree to follow. Yet you watch that 13-second video clip and it makes those sportsmanship pledges the players read before state championships seem like a joke.