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Take back that high-five! Why pandemic should end these sports traditions

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Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles (2) and Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) high-five during Game 5 against Houston in Houston on Wednesday, April 24, 2019.

Laura Seitz

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head coach of the country’s anti-coronavirus team, says that some of the changes we have adopted during this time of “social distancing” should become permanent.

No handshakes, for instance.

This seems like a good idea, especially when you read about studies that reveal the low percentage of people who wash their hands after using a public bathroom. And that was before coronavirus arrived on the scene.

“When you gradually come back, you don’t jump into it with both feet,” coach Fauci told The Wall Street Journal. “You say, what are the things you could still do and still approach normal? One of them is absolute compulsive hand-washing. The other is you don’t ever shake anybody’s hands. I don’t think we should ever shake hands ever again, to be honest with you. Not only would it be good to prevent the coronavirus disease; it probably would decrease instances of influenza dramatically in this country.”

Count me in. Maybe the Japanese are onto something when it comes to greetings — a simple nod of the head, maybe a bow — a few feet apart. It’s very G-rated — no skin.

But where does this leave sports? It’s a very handsy world, what with the high-fives, the low-fives, the double high-five, the fist bump, the handshake/half-bro hug, the full-on bro hug, the fanny slapping. There are almost as many handshake variations in sports as there are viruses, I’m guessing. It would require an entire paragraph to describe just one of them and private lessons to learn it.

While coaching a sophomore high school football team a few years ago the players engaged me in so many different handshakes that I thought I was going to hurt myself with all the last-second contortions I had to execute while trying to figure out what we were doing. I finally told the team, “I don’t care which handshake we use, but pick ONE of them and let me know what it is so I can practice.”

Getting rid of the high-five and its variations won’t be easy, but now seems like a good time to reevaluate such customs. Can someone explain to me, for instance, why basketball players feel compelled to slap hands with every member of their team after every free throw, as if he had just discovered cold fusion or found a cure for cancer?


Lone Peak and Herriman captains shake hands prior to kickoff as they open the 2018-19 football season at Lone Peak on Friday, Aug. 17, 2018. The game was delayed at the half for weather.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Don’t even get me started on gymnasts. Every time they complete a routine they are greeted on the sideline with bear hugs from teammates and coaches, as if they just returned from the Eastern Front.

And then there is the coin toss and its ritual exchanging of handshakes before every football game. And don’t forget the pregame and postgame handshakes in basketball.

Please, stop.

We are now a nation of germaphobes. There’s no need to continue these germs-spreading rituals.

The high-five even carried over into the nonsports arena – gimme five!! — but happily it has become passe’ for everybody but Michael Scott and David Puddy (see “Seinfeld,” season 9, episode 11) – high-five, on the flip side! Elaine, embarrassed by Puddy’s repeated requests for high-fives, finally tells him, “The high-five is just so stupid!”

Thank you.

“Gimme some skin,” people liked to say for a time (mostly Michael Scott-types). Or, in today’s terms: “Gimme some coronavirus.”

Well, it could be worse. In some countries, a greeting consists of rubbing noses, kissing (facial) cheeks and sticking out tongues. Pass me the Purell, please.

There is debate about the origins of the high-five. Some think it began in 1977 when the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Glenn Burke high-fived teammate Dusty Baker after a home run. Some think the Louisville basketball team started it a year later. If the inventor of the high-five had patented it, he’d have more money than the toilet paper makers right now.

Since 2002, the third Thursday of every April has been recognized as National High Five Day — a day for giving people as many high-fives as possible. This would probably be a good time to end High Five Day, especially since you didn’t even know about it.

If you’re looking for silver linings to the pandemic, the end of the handshake and variations on the theme might be among them. Give me five!