If you watched the end of Saturday night’s Georgia-Vanderbilt game or caught highlights of Sunday’s NFL tussle between the head coaches of the 49ers and Lions, you’d think sportsmanship is a thing of the past. But as much as those incidents were unseemly in regard to civility, maybe a different question is: Do we expect too much out of people when it comes to sportsmanship?
Don't get me wrong, there is no condoning the behavior of Georgia assistant coach Todd Grantham or Vandy head coach James Franklin after Saturday's 33-28 loss to the Bulldogs. Same goes for the mini-fracas between Jim Harbaugh of the 49ers and Jim Schwartz of the Lions after San Francisco's victory on Sunday. But as much as the behavior was a particularly bad example for youngsters, should it come as such a big surprise?
After all, these men spent hours upon hours figuring out how to defeat each other. In some cases, they motivated their players and maybe even themselves with, at the very least, a dislike for losing if not the opponent. Then they spent more than three hours directing their players in different ways to run into, over and around their opponent with the goal to not only win but take away the competitiveness of their foe in the process.
Basically, we cook up a gumbo of adrenaline, testosterone, ego and ambition, mix in a few 300-pound men and wonder why it doesn't stop the minute the game does. Again, I'm not saying it's right, just that it shouldn't be surprising. My question -- and it's a sincere one: Are expectations too high when it comes to postgame properness? Or to put it another way: Is a postgame handshake needed, or can players head to the locker room in orderly fashion if they so desire?
All incidents are different, of course. But in the case of the NFL coaching tussle, you have to figure Schwartz is more than a little dejected after his team lost for the fist time this season. Combine that with Harbaugh's exuberance over the big win and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know it's a bad mix. But say Harbaugh didn't slap Schwartz so hard and Schwartz therefore took no expection. The handshake itself would have been tepid at best, a football formality more than anything meaningful. In that case, I say what's the point?
Sure there are plenty of times when the losing coach is very sincere with his handshake and wish of luck for the rest of the season. And that's fine. Make that the exception rather than the rule. Would it be so bad if the default action was no interaction at all?
I understand the flip side, that in this age of dumbing down and expecting less that maybe, just maybe, adults could behave as such. That a handshake isn't too much to ask, win or lose. That doing something you'd rather not do builds character. That sportsmanship is both laudable and attainable.
But whether or not we're able to get together on this one, I'm glad to shake your hand and agree to disagree, Just don't bring Grantham with you.
Email Todd Cline at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Wednesdays.