Should you shake hands with an opponent even when you are upset with the way the game was played? The answer may depend on the circumstances.

What if it was at the end of a competitively played game, and all the documented rules of the game were followed?

Over the past several months, there have been several handshaking controversies. Some were in politics, and some were in sports. The political ones were when:

  • Rand Paul refused to shake the hand of his opponent after a debate. The reason: His opponent was airing ads which were out-of-bounds.
  • Meg Whitman refused to shake Jerry Brown’s hand on a pledge to stop negative ads. I guess she wanted to stay true to her word and campaign approach. Most politicians agree to stop the negative ads, but then continue doing it anyway.

Such is politics. The art of getting along is always a challenge, and the rules seem to be gray, at best, during campaigns.

Coach Haley & Coach McDaniels - No Handshake
Coach Todd Haley and Coach Josh McDaniels – The Handshake Snub (Getty)

The sport ones may be more interesting. The most recent one took place after a Sunday NFL game while another happened at a college game.

NFL Scene. At the end of the competition between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Denver Broncos, Coach Haley just shook his finger at Coach McDaniels and then walked away. He did not appreciate something the other team’s coach did; it is a little murky as to the reason for the snub.

Whatever Coach Haley did not like, he was clearly upset and took that opportunity to put the spotlight on his disgust.

College Football Scene. As a comparison, earlier in the college football season, there was another handshaking controversy-of-sorts which happened between Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema and Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster. Watch, again compliments of YouTube:  Unshakeable Hands – College Football

Yes, they shook hands, but it was clearly an angry handshake with sharp words exchanged. Running up the score is within the bounds of the game, but maybe not within the bounds of sportsmanship.

The point is sportsmanship. By shaking your finger, instead of hands, or by shaking hands angrily, instead of as “good game,” the attention now turns to the “innocent” side. In other words, rather than the focus being on whether or not sportsmanship happened on the field, the question becomes whether or not sportsmanship happened after the game. No good outcome in either case.

Two thoughts.

First, sportsmanship needs to happen on and off the field. NFL and college coaches alike need to set an example. Many young people are watching these games, and the adults need to act, well, like responsible adults.

Second, rise above the pettiness – be a good example. Show some leadership. If you are unhappy with a coach’s actions, then express them civilly and as a lesson to your team. Demonstrate to all watching that the integrity of your actions is as important as the integrity of the opposing coach’s actions.

It comes down to the choices we make in those heated moments. How will we act? What will be the decisions we make?

Sometimes, we need swallow hard and let our integrity shine. The other team’s actions will be judged on their own. With the YouTube world we live in, you can count on that fact.

What do you think? Shake hands or not?