This gesture of manners and good faith helps bring closure to a well-fought competition, anchoring in each participant a feeling of good will and faith in the spirit of competition.
When I was nine years old, my very first coach taught me and my teammates that lesson, and I’ve never forgotten it.
Like little monks-in-training who also happened to play soccer, we’d chant with our hands extended as we walked down the line of opposing players:
“Good game. Good game. Good game.”
Win or lose, that’s what you did. It’s called being a good sport.
At the conclusion of the 2015 Rose Bowl, I expected to see the Florida State players meet up with the University of Oregon players and make the customary rounds. As badly as any team loses to another, it’s still common courtesy to acknowledge the opponent as gentlemen, or ladies, as the case may be. Shaking hands with the opponent is simply part of the package.
But once the final score flashed on the jumbotron, and the confetti started to fly, the bulk of Florida State players didn’t walk out to meet the Ducks. Instead, the majority of them ran straight for the locker room without even a glance back, refusing to meet their victors.
While the players should have known better (they’ve been competing since they were little, haven’t they?), this decision was a major failure on the part of the coaching staff. Jimbo Fisher should have gone into that locker room and made his players return to the field and shake the hands of the men who won the battle that day. Doing that would have made a lasting impression on the team — and the country.
Win or lose, each player and coach must own the outcome of a game and make the best of it. Not shaking hands and bringing closure to what just happened is the ultimate form of disrespect and brings into stark relief the real status of leadership within the offending institution.
Had Coach Fisher brought his team back onto the field, it would have amended the etiquette faux pas considerably, and shown class and respect not only for the Ducks players, but for the game of football, the Rose Bowl organization, and the spirit of competition in general.
Now, along with the humiliating loss to the Ducks of 59-20 on a national stage, FSU football has a permanent black mark on its record books that has far greater implications for the program: being a sore loser.