Hold firm to the manly handshake

November 20, 2011|Bill Kohler

Handshake (noun) — A gripping and shaking of each other’s hand in greeting, farewell, agreement, etc.

My father had a great handshake. J. Thomas Balistrere had a great handshake. Anthony Ceddia, the former president of Shippensburg (Pa.) University, had a solid handshake. Your preacher, the president of the United States, an old buddy when you see each other for the first time in years.

Good, solid handshakes.

I always felt that a handshake was a sign of becoming a man. As a teenager and college student, I always wanted to be considered a man, even though I acted like an immature imbecile at times. A handshake with a man I respect made me feel more like a man. It made me feel like I was moving up the ladder.

It serves as a greeting or a welcome to someone. It can help take the edge off of a tense situation. It should be firm and solid. Look the other person in the eye and don’t linger — especially guy to guy.

I hate limp-fish shakes from other guys. Handshakes should be taken seriously and limp-fish shakes just seem like you don’t care enough about the other person to give a good, solid shake.

They’re important, vital, affirming. The foundation of a gentleman’s agreement.

But handshakes are taking a beating lately.

Last month, there was Shakegate in the NFL. A winning coach — after belly-bumping one of his own players — gave a quick handshake and a hard slap on the shoulder to the losing coach after a hard-fought game.

The losing coach freaked out and chased the winning coach 40 yards downfield. Both were yelling obscenities and had to be separated by diminutive PR flacks, as well as large football players. It was almost like something out of the old WWF with Rowdy Roddy Piper, Mean Gene Okerland and Tito Santana.

The winning coach didn’t look the losing coach in the eye and was a bit exuberant. He later said it was his fault, blaming it on the thrill of victory. The losing coach lectured and whined.

The botched handshake distracted from the real issue at hand, turning what should have been a meeting of men into a melee.

And then there’s the whole germ thing.

Germs — and the fear of spreading them to and catching them from other humans — have created a need to reassess our handshaking practices. Or instead of abolishing handshakes, maybe we should wear gloves to protect us from germs?

I mean, seriously, where have those hands been?

I am a high school and youth soccer referee. I used to shake hands with all of the players and coaches after the game (OK, OK, most games). I do 60 to 70 games a year. That’s about 28 to 30 handshakes a game. You do the math.

Where have those hands been?

I’ve resorted to handshakes with the adult coaches and fist bumps with the kids. I’m sorry, but I allowed the dignity of the handshake to play second fiddle to me catching the black plague and coughing up a lung for two weeks straight.

It still feels weird to be fist bumping. Cool and kinda hip, but weird.

But perhaps this is a cautionary tale. I’ve purchased a couple of bottles of hand sanitizer and I’m bent on using them.

Last weekend, I brought the handshake back (and my sanitizers) at my soccer games. I looked at the players, coaches and fellow referees in the eyes and gave them firm shakes. Perhaps it made us all feel a little better.

Last weekend, I learned a little lesson about handshakes. After a game, I had a discussion with a coach who didn’t seem to be getting my explanation of a certain rule. We both lost our tempers and our patience. I walked away with my daughter and realized I had given him the wrong team’s materials after the game.

My daughter offered to run the stuff over to him because she’s a super-cool kid and didn’t want us to “yell at each other.” I said, “No, I have to man up.”

We walked across the fields and traded the cards. We shook hands and apologized and he said, “It’s all good, man.” I agreed. The shake was firm and sealed the deal that life is too short to be arguing about the things that don’t matter.

Lessons learned. I’ll shake on that.

Bill Kohler is Tri-State editor of The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at

The Herald-Mail Articles