Column: Are collegiate athletes getting schooled in sportsmanship?


Director of player development for the Georgia Bulldogs John Eason leads both teams in prayer at the center of the field after the Mountaineers’ 45-6 loss in November. Win or lose, the Mountaineers tend to engage in post-game fellowship. Photo by Paul Heckert | The Appalachian

Cory Spiers

A postgame scuffle that occurred Feb. 27 between collegiate basketball players from San Diego State and University of New Mexico has attracted a good deal of media attention over the past month, including attention from Matt Giles of NBC Sports.

Giles broke down the events in a column published Feb. 25, saying that teams shouldn’t be forced to shake hands after a game.

His solution: allow players time to clear their mind in the locker room, and have a postgame show of sportsmanship in the tunnel.

“Handshake lines aren’t good,” New Mexico head basketball coach Craig Neal said in an interview with NBC Sports. “When competitive people go to war, two competitive teams go to war – they’re not nice.”

On the surface, this all seems fine for us at Appalachian State. The postgame scrum happened in the Mountain West Conference, a far cry from affecting the SoCon, or even the Sun Belt, where App State will play next season.

That is, it was fine until Dean Keener, a former Davidson basketball player and now radio commentator and bi-weekly columnist for SoCon Sports, took notice and mentioned his stance on postgame handshakes in his SoCon Tournament Edition of his column The Dean’s List that was published March 5.

“There should be consideration to have a pre-game handshake immediately following the national anthem,” Keener said in his column. “This would serve as a replacement for the post-game exchange.”

It’s troubling to imagine that the thought of eliminating postgame handshakes is creeping up in the conference that App State has participated in since 1971. Even more frightening is the thought of influential figures in other conferences taking a similar stance on the issue.

But Keener’s argument is not without logic. He does raise a fair point that emotions can run wild between teams after a game, but demolishing a longstanding tradition of sportsmanship in athletics solely based off of the possibility of some players allowing emotions to overtake them after a game is simply absurd.

Sportsmanship is a measure of character. It is displayed by those who respect the game when the dust has settled on the playing field and athletes are able to display mutual respect for one another and the sport they play.

College is all about learning new things while also learning how to mature. For college athletes, that means learning to control their emotions even after a heated battle with a rival.

A famous hockey photograph from April 8, 1952 captured Boston Bruins goalie Jim Henry with his head bowed, seemingly in reverence of his opponent, as he shook the hand of the Montreal Canadien’s Maurice Richard after that year’s Stanley Cup semifinals.

Yes, it’s a different sport and it’s not collegiate – but the image of those two men humbled after a hard, physical battle defines sportsmanship and if collegiate athletes are not engaging in the same kind of displays, then what are they truly gaining from having the privilege to play collegiate sports?

A pre-game gathering is fine if that helps players, but don’t take the postgame handshake away.

If collegiate athletes and coaches can’t learn to use self-control and take a few brief moments to display their respect for an opposing team, perhaps there’s more they need to be studying while they are in school.

Column: Cory Spiers, Sports Editor

Photo: Paul Heckert, Photo Editor