By Sherri Middleton
As athletes return to fields and venues to play sports, things will look and feel a little different.
I’ve been thinking about this for weeks and mentioned it to my sister a month ago as we discussed travel, tourism and sports.
I wondered how we will all learn a new way of celebrating a great play when we’ve been so accustomed to high-fives, chest bumps, bear hugs and handshakes.
My sister and her two sons earned black belts in karate many years ago and she looked at me in stunned silence. She was apparently thinking about the long hours of katas and sparring in the dojo in southern Florida. The Sensei there taught his students to shake hands when meeting.
We’d never discussed this part of Karate. I’d watched her train and teach others but I’d never realized the respectful handshake was so important in her gym. I originally thought all martial arts favored a bow, prayer palms or power palm as a greeting.
This led the discussion deeper. How do you keep a kid who has been raised on high-fives and hand slaps to suddenly abandon this celebratory action? How do you stop adults from repeating that action now that we are supposed to maintain social distance?
I’d already spoken to general managers at sports facilities across the country when this conversation took place. They’d told me they were implementing changes at the facilities and new guidelines for athletes and spectators were put in place for all those entering when sports return. Hand sanitizing stations were added, temperature checks before entering a facility or before the start of a tournament would become commonplace. In baseball and softball dugouts, spitting sunflower seeds would not be tolerated. Water stations would be shut down. Spectators would be limited in numbers to maintain acceptable levels based on local and state orders.
No high-fives, no seed spitting, no congratulatory after the baseball game hand-slapping among opposing teams.
How will football then return? How will linemen square off? Will face shields and face masks be required for all?
What about rugby where the scrum is an integral part of the game?
How about tennis and volleyball where athletes shake hands with the official at the end of the game?
I remembered seeing an image early this year of an NBA player holding up a closed fist to outstretched hands of fans as he emerged from the tunnel onto the court. His downturned glance and pursed lips said everything. The photo was captured by John Leyba with the Associated Press.
So, what now? Fist bumps? Elbow bumps? Cleat bumps?
If you ask many people, the conversation about handshakes, high-fives and other forms of touching to celebrate or greet others is not a good practice at all. Many cultures find the act of touching a total stranger repugnant. The handshake and high-five spreads germs. We’ve now learned just how many germs are spread by these simple acts.
I’ve always liked the idea of a prayer motion as a greeting. In India and other parts of the world, placing our own two hands together in greeting is acceptable and preferred. I also like the simple head bow or even a torso bow.
In business settings, it will also be difficult to walk up to meet a new person without extending a hand in an introduction. It’s a lesson I guess we will all learn in time and there is always the fear of “leaving someone hanging” after their hand is extended. The shame!
But in sports where athletes will try or be forced to stop touching. How does that work?
Entire bodies are pressed against each other in some sports. Sweat is dripping. Breath and spit are filling the air. Water bottles are shared. Social distancing goes out of the window.
It’s something we’ll all have to think about now and it’s not going to be easy to come up with a great solution that works for everyone.