Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Jim Harbaugh, Manners and Free License to Be a Jerkwad

It’s pretty easy to get cynical about sports. It’s pretty natural to see somebody like NFL coach Jim Harbaugh act like an entitled jerk and then come to the conclusion that everybody is like that -- assume that he is simply doing what all professional athletes and coaches do. It’d be easy to think that behavior like Harbaugh’s is not merely tolerated, but actually celebrated.

I heard some of the talking head din after the handshake bruhaha, some of which framed football as war (stop me if you've heard this one before). The thrust being that it's okay for Harbaugh to be a jerk because (wait for it) -- the Lions and their coach Jim Schwartz are “the enemy.” Puh-leeze.

If you missed it, after Harbaugh’s 49er’s upset Schwartz’s Lions on Sunday, there was a bit of a dust up after the ‘handshake,’ causing Schwartz to take off after Harbaugh until they were separated.

Then, in the post-game pressers, Harbaugh dissed Schwartz with his whole, “I guess it was a hard handshake” stuff. Harbaugh’s smirk as he said it was insufferable; it actually rose to the level of an A-Rod worthy smirk, if you can believe that.

And Detroit's Jim Schwartz isn’t blameless in this either. He could have taken the high road, walked away from Harbaugh and made a mental note to himself of what a monkey's ass the guy is.

I’m not suggesting that emotion be taken out of the game. I love emotional coaches. I love guys who are engaged and engaging on the sidelines. They make the games more fun to watch and, I would expect that players (or at least some players) respond to it.

But I don't buy that to be emotional means that classeless preening and chest-thumping are also absolutely essential. Without it, Jim Harbaugh (and his team) are as feeble as Samson with a high and tight?

These are grown men. They can’t reign in their emotions for 10 second, long enough to shake hands with the opposing coach and say, “good game.” How hard would that be? How hard would it be not to bray like an ass?

I don’t want to be the PC police and I don’t endorse 'phony-ism,' but I am a firm believer in manners and in being polite. I guess you can view being courteous as being phony. You can be that dark if you want to, but to me it just means being a decent person in a civilization.

Phony would be Harbaugh sending Schwartz an extravagant birthday present. Shaking hands in a dignified way is simply being polite. And being polite is a simple standard to which we should all be held.

I’ve spent a lot of time on the sidelines of women’s football games, high school football games, college basketball games (of all Divisions) and so on, where both winners and losers behave decently. That may seem trite. I suppose the manners and sportsmanship I’ve seen on the high school level is cliched, silly and just outdated because, ironically enough, the ‘higher up’ the athletic food-chain you get, the less important manners become.

But I've got a little secret about professional sports which I am now about to share with you:  They're too full of themselves. The players, the coaches, the media, the fans -- we all think these games are more important than they are.

I don’t care how good of a football player you are, that doesn’t give you license to be a jerkface.

I don’t care how excited you are about your win, it doesn’t mean you should act like a tool.

I spent a solid year with the Pittsburgh Passion women’s football team and listened to the owner, T. Conn, talk about representing with class and dignity and professionalism. Good thing she and her players actually aimed higher than the professionals.

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