Roy Luck, CCL
Source: Roy Luck, CCL

I've been thinking some lately about the practice of shaking an opponent's hand after a game, and wondering whether—as Randolph Feezell and Craig Clifford put it in Sport and Character—“…at the end of the game, should we always, without exception, attempt to shake the hands of our opponents? (p. 36)"

Back in 2013, the Kentucky State High School Athletic Association advised schools to do away with the postgame handshake due to the occurrence of fights and other physical conflict. However, in my own experience the practice continues, which I believe is a good thing.

Nevertheless, my intuition is to say that there can be morally justified exceptions to this practice. For example, as a player it seems I'd be justified in refraining from this practice if an opponent has intentionally injured one of my teammates. Or if an opponent consistently displays deep disrespect for the game, officials, and her opponents, is there something disingenuous about shaking her hand after the game?

Or take a case that is less clear, but one that I've been thinking about lately for personal reasons. As a coach in youth sports, am I obligated to shake the hand of my opposing coach if he or she spends the entire game berating their own players (and mine), criticizing the referee, and engaging in other patterns of disrespectful behavior?

One might also think that the postgame handshake is not just about respect for the opponent, but respect for the game itself. If this is true, then shaking an opponent’s hand after the game is important, even if the opponent has displayed unsportsmanlike behavior. As a coach, I’ve always had my players line up and shake hands after the game. Sometimes our opponents will go through the line and pull their hand back and not actually shake hands. I don’t tolerate this behavior on my team, and I always instruct them to show good sportsmanship even if their opponents fail to do so.

The bottom line question is this:  Is the respect that is communicated via the postgame handshake dependent in some sense on how an opponent conducts themselves? If so, are there times when it is appropriate to refrain from this tradition? What do you think?

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