Fambrough: Ban on handshakes sends up red flag

A group that governs high school sports found itself in hot water last week for what plenty of people believe was a hasty decision. And no, it wasn’t the Louisiana High School Athletic Association.

The Kentucky High School Athletic Association unwittingly found itself in the crosshairs of the national media, including ESPN and NBC.

A “directive” released by KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett encouraged limited post-contest contact between student-athletes from opposing teams.

You want to solve a sportsmanship issue by taking away a universal symbol of sportsmanship?

Tackett’s memo that was sent out to KHSAA member schools cited “more than two dozen” instances of post-contest altercations at its schools over the past three years, including “incidents in soccer, football and volleyball” this fall.

ESPN analyst Herm Edwards, a former NFL coach, took exception to the memo and said that he’d have his team shake hands with opponents anyway if he was coaching.

One of the first things youth-league players are taught is how to line up for postgame handshakes.

Youth leagues do it, middle schools and high schools do it. And so do college and pro teams.

A day later, Tackett clarified the KHSAA’s position saying there was, in fact, no ban on postgame handshakes and that such a move was never considered.

Tackett noted growing concerns about sportsmanship. All states, including Louisiana, have issues. The LHSAA released sportsmanship guidelines regarding fights and teams leaving the bench during games before the 2012-13 school year.

“Now I do think there are times when it’s best for teams not to shake hands,” LHSAA assistant executive director Keith Alexander said. “But to me, it seems like you’re going against what you’re trying to teach with sportsmanship if you ban shaking hands all together.”

I’ve seen coaches instruct their teams to head to opposite end zones instead of shaking hands following a game that had gotten too physical, emotional or both. In one instance teams agreed not to do a postgame in advance because of pregame Internet banter.

We’ve all said and done impulsive things we later regret. Learning to control those emotions and impulses is yet another lesson high school athletics can and should teach.

A sense of responsibility must be integrated. Athletes also represent their families and their schools.

A handshake doesn’t win or lose games. But it’s a common courtesy worth keeping.