When Sports Return, Will Handshakes and High-Fives Be Relics of the Past?

Kyle Koster
Hand-to-hand contact may be left in the past.
Hand-to-hand contact may be left in the past. / Grant Halverson/Getty Images
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The coronavirus is going to have deep and long-lasting impacts on the world, and those related to sports are way down the depth chart of importance. Uncertainty over the return of games and the return of fans -- which likely won't be concurrent -- rule the day and will continue to rule the weeks and months to come. Eventually, though, both will return.

It'd be too hubristic for us to think things will be the same. There will be changes. Most experts believe this spring's battle with the invisible enemy won't be the last in the grand scheme of the war being fought. It will come back in waves seasonally until there is a reliable vaccine. Denying that reality may feel good temporarily, but doesn't move anyone closer to acceptance.

Going into the future with eyes wide open is the only way to enjoy it for what it is, on the less-than-ideal terms it'll dictate.

All of this is a long preamble to introducing the notion that even the small elements of sport will be altered. Consider the handshake. Pregame. Postgame. In-game. Likely a relic of the past going forward, if the advice of Dr. Anthony Fauci and his ilk are to be believed.

There's always been something a bit ironic that knowing what we do about germs, the very custom aimed at showing you weren't a threat could help spread something lethal. Surely reducing hand-to-hand contact is a way to slow the spread of infectious diseases and should be best practice.

This also means the handshake's first cousins are out. Fist bumps and high-fives will be seen an unnecessary risks. Of course, this is a bit strange considering all the physical contact already in sports, but no one said some cognitive dissonance wouldn't be essential in getting the country and world back up and running again.

Never mind that basketball players will be leaning all over each other, handling the same basketball. Or that baseball players, known to love to spit, will be conducting business in close proximity to each other. I almost feel comfortable guaranteeing that celebratory or sportsmanship-themed hand play will be explicitly outlawed.

So what does that mean? Broadly, it's an imperative to break some long-running habits. Consider how ingrained the hand slap is when free throw shooters are rewarded with one after a miss or, more astoundingly, give ghost daps up when no teammate is line up along the paint. It means no more hugs and shakes after a hard-fought tournament game. In hockey, perhaps they'll keep the gloves on to tap.

And you're probably sitting there thinking this is such a trivial angle to even explore. You may be right. But it will absolutely be weird to see little traditions like these go away. Primarily because it's tough to appreciate how much of sports' fabric they hold together.

That's the playbook. The big stuff and little stuff will all seem odd even as we stride toward normalcy. The details will change dramatically everywhere we look, including on hardwoods, gridirons, and diamonds.

Sports will undoubtably find new traditions to fill the physical void. Air-fives, perhaps. Leg taps. Something complex and delightful we cannot even conceive of right now.

Something to add to the already-long list of somethings to look forward to down the road.

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