Premier League Perspectives: What To Do About the Pre-Match Handshake?
With the furor surrounding the John Terry/Anton Ferdinand and Patrice Evra/Luis Suarez incidents from last year there is yet again the issue of what to do with the Pre-Match handshake for Premier League matches.
What is the point really? To show the human side of sports? To display a show of sportsmanship for everyone to see? Why?
It seems that this show of sportsmanship to start matches was used to show that players can act civilly towards one another. That it is only a game.
I beg to differ. While sports are meant to be a recreational activity they begin to move away from the recreational aspect and more towards the business end of things once you get into high level professional sports. This is a job for these players. Their life depends on what happens on the pitch. If a player feels that they are being threatened then they will do whatever they can to defend themselves. Of course, there are consequences if they cross that line.
When playing a competitive sport it is very easy to let emotions get in the way and cloud judgement. I have spent many years playing competitive sports (never on the professional though) so I can understand how it feels when the adrenaline is pumping and you get too excited. Even supporters let this happen. In many ways hooliganism was an extension of this.
Fans (and pundits) need to remember that those players out there are people too. They have emotions like anyone else and they sometimes lose control of those emotions and make rash, stupid decisions.
With all of that said, I think it is important for these players to recognize what it is they are doing to make a living. They are professionals that make a living through the fame and fortunate ability that they have on the soccer pitch. Without the fans support they would not have this livelihood (the same can be said for any athlete). I love to watch what these guys can do (that I only wish I could do). I love to cheer them on and support my club. I, however, do not like to see them act like immature children.
I cannot stand seeing players (however passionate they might be) swearing into the camera, flipping off fans, throwing punches at one another, or racially abusing anyone. I know the old argument about athletes not being role models, but I disagree.
I’m sure there are many athletes that do not want to be role models, but the fact is that they are. There are millions of people out there that look up to these players and try to emulate them. They buy the jerseys, the shoes, even outfits and cologne that these players endorse. By becoming a professional player these athletes are making themselves into role models whether they like it or not. By endorsing products they are becoming role models even more than the average professional athlete since they are then using their own image (and all that entails) to get people to become more like them.
What does that have to do with a handshake? There are plenty of other sports that do not have mandatory handshakes (baseball, American football, basketball to name a few) as well as many more that do have handshakes either before or after a match (volleyball, tennis, hockey). I think the handshake is a great way to show the ideals of sports and sportsmanlike conduct. Sure, it is pageantry, but what is so wrong about that?
There are kids watching these matches and setting a positive example is very important. This should also extend to the match itself and the way players handle themselves on the pitch. Yes, officials make bad calls, but does that mean that players need to gather around him, screaming and cursing? During matches do players have to “wind-up” one another? Do they have to “have a go” at each other?
I would say the same for supporters and their conduct. In many places it’s probably not a safe atmosphere for young children because of the conduct of the fans. Do these children really need to hear some of the songs and chants out there? Do they need to hear adults cursing at opposing players and calling them names?
With the QPR v. Chelsea match coming up this weekend the question of the pre-match handshake has come up again. Should Anton Ferdinand shake John Terry’s hand? Thus far Anton Ferdinand has said he will not shake Terry’s hand, and personally, I do not blame him. It would be ideal if players were able to move on, forgive and forget, but this is not an ideal world. It is always going to be difficult for Ferdinand to forgive when John Terry continues to insist he did nothing wrong and has not given an apology.
What should be done from here?
I say let the handshakes go ahead as planned. If a player chooses not to shake hands, then so be it, let it go and move on. I know, this is not the way of the world (and especially the massive media world of the English Premier League). My opinion is that players are people that have feelings and if a player feels he was racially abused and nothing has been done about it, then he has the choice to move forward in the way that best suites him. I think he would probably be better off from a mental health standpoint to let it go off his own accord, but it will be his choice.
The main issue at stake here is not the handshake itself but rather the events preceding it. In my opinion, more needs to be done about the on-field conduct of players. If players are racially abusing other players, then this is uncalled for. Even using racial terms (no matter what culture they originated from) should be punished with, at the very least, a yellow card and fine. If there are fans in the stadium also racially abusing players, then they should also have consequences. Perhaps stadium bans and fines would help out with this.
As long as players are out there not keeping their own emotions in check during matches, then there will continue to be problems. Once players begin to see what the expectations (and consequences) are then they will begin to change their behavior.