The coronavirus could change sports and life in some ways we can predict, and in some ways that will only unfold with time. (For instance, who knew that it would be impossible to buy toilet paper only a few weeks into its U.S. incursion?) But it also presents us with an opportunity to end one of the most tyrannical institutions in human history: The godforsaken handshake.
Why do we shake hands? What is the point? As long as the handshake has existed, it has been the number one manmade way to exchange germs. It's a perfect vector; the nuclear bomb of viruses and bacteria, and we're handing it to them (LITERALLY) on a silver platter. The formula is simple: Hand goes to mouth, hand goes to other hand, other hand goes to other mouth, and thus the bug is transmitted. On a human health level, the handshake was always a terrible idea.
Also, it completely took over sports. Before each game, there are handshakes. After each game, there are handshakes. Even chess players can't escape it; you have to shake hands if you draw, as if congratulating each other on mutual mediocrity. If you're a golf journalist, like me, every single interaction with a player, agent, or other media member at the start of an event is preceded by a handshake. It's as ubiquitous as the word "hello."
It's also a useless way to evaluate our peers. From the time I was young, I was told I would be judged by the quality of my handshake, and thus taught implicitly that I should judge others by the quality of theirs. You have to squeeze hard, but not too hard, shake with noticeable but not overwhelming vigor, and look the other person squarely in the eye. The propaganda worked on me: I do a good handshake, and it weirds me out when someone gives me the limp fish in return.
Why is this a thing? Why have we ever needed to shake hands? Why have we ever judged someone by how well they execute this pointless maneuver? What if they just have a weak grip? Are all the weak grip people bad? I bet Einstein had a weak grip, and look what he accomplished.
And why was it created in the first place? Is it about establishing a human connection by physical touch? In that case, a fist bump is plenty. If you want more, go for a hug. A hug is way healthier than a handshake, as long as both parties are wearing clothes. (And if they're not, germs are the least of their concerns.) The "fist bump or hug" system would end the awkward "what kind of handshake are we doing here?" situation. It would also place each relationship within a hierarchy. I go for a hug, but you offer the fist bump? That hurts, but at least I know where we stand. You don't get that kind of clarity from a handshake, which is the nebulous middle ground of greetings. It leaves both parties totally unaware of their status with the other.
If it's about forming a bond of trust, let me just tell you: You're an idiot if you trust someone because of a handshake. A good handshaker will betray you just as quickly as a lousy handshaker.
If it's about sealing a deal, there's a reason we require actual signed contracts: A handshake is a meaningless symbol. Go right to the pens! (And use your own.)
This week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, nobody was shaking hands. The coronavirus has freaked us all out, so it's been either a fist bump or nothing, except for the occasional joke when two people bump elbows. And I'll tell you what: Aside from the atmosphere of total, pervasive, "Masque of the Red Death" fear and paranoia, it has been freeing. When I approach a professional golfer on a normal weekend, neither one of us wants to shake hands. It does absolutely nothing. Still, we feel compelled. But now we don't have to!
The day will come when the coronavirus wipes out all humanity, or goes away and we move on. If it's the latter, and the human race survives, we should all agree to be done with handshakes. They are the superhighway of germs, an arena for baseless judgment, and an annoying obligation. Get rid of them now. Let this be the start of the age of fist bumps. Shake on it? No more! Let's bump on it.
The Saviors of College Basketball: Duke and UNC
I have said this before, and will say it again: College basketball is the worst sports product in America, and has been for at least a decade. That's really saying something, because college basketball also happens to have the most fun and iconic postseason format ever conceived. If you have March Madness as an ace up your sleeve and your sport still stinks, you're doing something very wrong. Yet the same nonsense plagues the game year after year: Slow, boring, brutal play, endless timeouts and review that ruin the end of every close game, and clueless officials who can't discern a block from a charge because the rules make no sense.
Those complaints aside, we should recognize the aberrations. They are few and far between in 2020, but Tobacco Road has two of them: Duke and UNC. Yes, UNC is terrible this year, but the rivalry games with Duke have still been special. The first was an instant classic where an unthinkable Duke comeback was capped off by a Wendell Moore buzzer-beater, and the second went down last night and included plays like these:
The dramatic finishes are nice, but the style of play is even nicer: Free-flowing, transition basketball, with lots of scoring and athleticism. It's the polar opposite of watching a team like Virginia, which takes the air out of the ball and routinely plays games that end in the 40s. When Duke and UNC play, it almost looks like an NBA game, which is about the highest compliment you could give two college teams. It's what every team in America, and the NCAA itself, should be working toward. Instead, they're anomalies—a dying breed of fun basketball teams in a swamp of drudgery.
The Really Good Basketball Player of the Week: LeBron James
Stop the presses, folks: LeBron is good. It became clear Friday night against the Bucks, when he was challenged by the other best player in the league, Giannis, and proceeded to own him on both ends of the floor:
Then, on Sunday, playing the no. 2 team in the west and their in-city rivals, LeBron and Anthony Davis ran roughshod. Stay for mean mugging at the end:
Our long national debate is over: LeBron is not just good at basketball...he's quite good. The deal is sealed. Let's bump on it.