The Way I See It

By Pat Bigold

Tuesday, September 23, 1997

Bring back the
postgame handshake

I know the rule was well-intended when it was instituted in June 1994. And I know that it has lessened the potential for outbreaks of violence in some cases.

But I still can't get used to the artificial spectacle of Oahu Interscholastic Association players shaking hands before they engage in competition.

The rule that requires the athletes to greet each other before the opening kickoff has drained all feeling from the ceremony.

The handshake in the aftermath of a hard-fought physical contest like football represents a catharsis -- a purifying of the emotions built up in the heat of battle.

It's necessary. It's natural.

After two hours of sublimating one's most intense feelings for the good of the team, an emotional outlet should be allowed. In the case of athletes, that outlet is usually expressed in random acts of camaraderie.

The handshake ritual used to mean something in the OIA, and it was often an eye-catching moment of drama. Fans would stay to see the fiercest opponents embrace.

THERE was a time when OIA players did more than just tap hands through the line. After a down-and-dirty, nose-to-nose, pad-thumping war, you'd see the combatants clasp hands, hug, wack shoulder pads -- and do it all with intense expressions of mutual respect.

You still see that wonderful behavior after Interscholastic League of Honolulu, collegiate games and NFL games.

How many places in the world is a handshake as animated, warm and affectionate as it is dealt in Hawaii? To me, it's been elevated to an art form in the islands.

So how can you tell a nose guard and a tackle who've beaten the bejabbers out of each other for four quarters, a wide receiver and cornerback who've jockeyed with each other at high speed, or a blitzing safety and the quarterback he's pursued all night that they can't even talk to each other when the game is over?

I spoke with players who were genuinely distraught when the handshake ban went into effect. "That's what football's all about," said one.

TRUE, there have been some unfortunate incidents in the past. I was there the night of Nov. 4, 1993, when referee Jim Beavers was attacked by a Waipahu fan after a loss to Waianae at Aloha Stadium.

OIA executive secretary Ted Fukushima has often expressed serious concern about the potential for youth gangs using the aftermath of football games to stage reprisals. The longer the players linger on the field, the greater the potential.

Out of consideration for the safety of players, coaches and officials, Fukushima had 4-foot fences built around home site fields.

Fukushima, who's been a sincerely concerned league administrator, has pointed out that pre-game drinking is another factor in the decision to ban postgame handshakes. He's right on the money with that concern.

But I don't think that a lurking minority of thugs and beer guzzlers ought to be able to hold hostage for so long such a beautifully sentimental rite -- the peaceful exchange of hands between battered, bruised and exhausted opponents.

How great it would be if tragic human conflicts in Belfast, Algiers and Jerusalem could be calmed through such a sensitive vehicle as the postgame football handshake.

With all due respect to legitimate concerns for safety, I think it's time to once again allow our athletes to express their respect for each other after the dust has settled.

Pat Bigold has covered sports for daily newspapers
in Hawaii and Massachusetts since 1978.

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