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All shook up and handshakes

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Editorial: Oct. 20, 2013

ISSUE: KHSAA directive on post-game handshakes

OrUR VIEW: Shake on

The Kentucky High School Athletic Association stirred up a tempest in a teapot Oct. 8 when it appeared it had banned the post-game tradition of teams meeting to exchange handshakes.

The story went viral, as they say. Social media sites, news reports and even legislators quickly decried the prohibition. School districts promised to defy the directive.

In reality, there never was a ban on the practice. The next day, KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett issued a clarification:

“There has never been a ban or prohibition on postgame handshakes or other types of good sporting behavior by the KHSAA, its commissioner or its Board of Control. Nor has such a ban been proposed. There is no ban or prohibition on such activity today or contemplated for the future.”

As critics pointed out, the tradition is an important part of sportsmanship and of molding children and young adults to be good competitors and to respect their opponents. It’s a concept good coaches and parents take seriously.  

In rare cases, some athletes either never learned or forget the lesson in the heat of the moment. KHSAA cited “more than two dozen situations” over “several years” where incidents of unsportsmanlike conduct have taken place. In his clarification, Tackett pointed out there is lots of finger-pointing and few facts. But he said a lack of supervision was a common factor.

Sometimes, athletes need to learn the hard lesson that actions have consequences. Schools must have policies to deal with those who behave poorly on the field — before, during and after games, just as they do in classrooms. Those policies must address unacceptable behavior in a manner commensurate to the offense — for instance game suspensions.

There must be policies for administrators, too, as to who is responsible for supervising the ritual.

Big world problems often manifest themselves in schools where scrutiny is enhanced and emotions run high. What KHSAA sought was to protect itself and schools from potential liability that could arise in such situations. The directive simply tells game officials, who are contract employees whose responsibilities end when the game does; they should leave the field when their game duties are finished.

KHSAA has the right and the responsibility all employers have to provide a safe workplace. And its employees have an obligation to protect their employer from unnecessary risks. Sportsmanship doesn’t have to fall through the cracks, but neither should common sense.

This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.