Neil Rudel on athletics: Sportsmanship can use a hand

By now you’ve no doubt seen Sunday’s altercation that resulted in a five-game suspension for Michigan basketball coach Juwan Howard.

The Big Ten acted decisively in sidelining Howard, the former Fab 5 and NBA standout, for the remainder of the regular season after he slapped a Wisconsin assistant coach in the head during a post-game scrum as the teams were shaking heads.

Wisconsin coach Greg Gard fueled the confrontation, but Howard turned it into a national embarrassment — one of the stories of the year in college basketball, really — and deserved the discipline.

That Gard called a late timeout with a big lead, or that Howard was still pressing is immaterial.

Howard eventually showed contrition with an apology a day later and apparently now knows his behavior has no place in college sports.

Though he also had a sideline confrontation with then-Maryland coach Mark Turgeon last year, save until Sunday, Howard has done a good job in his first head-coaching opportunity with the Wolverines.

That’s why he wasn’t fired.

But that’s not the point today.

Almost immediately after the incident, the sports world reacted with its predictable “Get rid of the post-game handshake” argument.

And that is totally absurd, especially at the college and high school levels, where teaching character and how to win and lose with class must remain vital components to the experience.

Television cameras capture the bad examples – like Howard vs. Gard or Antonio Brown – and show our kids that it’s OK to show up the opposition by standing over them and taunting.

To its credit, the NFL has outlawed some of it.

But there are so many good examples, of coaches going through the handshake line and praising, encouraging or consoling an opposing player – sometimes a senior against whom he has competed for several years – that an occasional outburst can’t derail the mission.

Joe Paterno used to say teams needed to love their opponent because were it not for worthy opponents, the games are meaningless.

And he’s right: Who wants to watch blowouts night after night?

Sure, there’s a fine line between love and hate, and that’s evident in the best of rivalries – Michigan-Ohio State, Auburn-Alabama, Army-Navy, Yankees-Red Sox and, once upon a time, Penn State-Pitt – but that can never trump respect for the other guy.

There is no finer display of sportsmanship than at the end of a playoff series in hockey when the teams – who have banged and even fought, sometimes for seven games – line up and give each other a firm handshake.

I have seen countless examples of respect shown locally between players and teams, and this is one: After his son graduated about 15 years ago, Tom Hart, the father of top State College athlete Brook Hart, wrote a letter to the Mirror Mailbag on how much the series with Altoona and the opportunity to go toe-to-toe in all sports meant to the Hart family and the State College community.

If players — and coaches — can’t be taught to say “good game,” the value of sports and the lessons it teaches are diminished.

Keep the handshake.

Neil Rudel can be reached at nrudel@altoonamirror.com.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *


Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today