Let’s Shake on It…Or Nah?

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This weekend the tennis world had its panties all
in a bunch because Canadian star, Eugenie Bouchard refused to shake her
opponent’s hand before a Fed Cup tennis match versus Romania’s Alexandra
Dulgheru.  Fans and commentators
immediately called Bouchard’s sports(wo)manship into question and even went so
far as to say she deserved to lose the match for failing to be a good
sport.  In a matter of seconds, one of
tennis’ up-and-coming stars (who was already having a tough time meeting the
public’s expectations) seemed to be slowly falling back to earth.  But was the public criticism really
warranted?  Was her refusal to shake
Dulgheru’s hand really a display of unsportsmanlike conduct?  Methinks the public doth protest too
much.  While handshakes in sports are generally
seen as a gesture of goodwill and sportsmanship, like everything else in this
world, it’s all relative.

First, Bouchard had a very valid explanation for
not shaking Dulgheru’s hand.  Her words: “It’s
nothing personal towards her, I just don’t believe in wishing my opponent good
luck before the match. After we play I will shake her hand, no matter what
happens.”  Bouchard, like all other
professional athletes, is a competitor.
She wants to win.  In her quest to
win she isn’t handing out good lucks to her opponents and wishing that they play
the best tennis of their lives, nor should she be.  No, she’s focused maaaaan.  She’s focused on playing well and beating her
opponent to a pulp.  That’s what she’s
paid to do, that’s what she’s trained to do, and that’s what the people really
want to see.  So why not let her focus on
that?  Focus is everything for
professional athlete, especially those who participate in individual
sports.  A pre-match press conference can
be a bit of a distraction for some, so why expect Bouchard to be focused on the
match, taking pictures, answering questions, aaaand being a good sportsman? Let
her be a great tennis player first and a great sportsman second.

The fact that she’s an individual sport competitor
brings up another point.  She plays
tennis.  It’s customary to see team
captains of football teams shake hands before games and to see boxers tap
gloves before bouts.  And it’s buzzworthy
when athletes in those sports decide to not follow protocol.  But it’s not customary in tennis to shake
hands and have press conferences with your competitors BEFORE a match.  It just doesn’t work that way.  How many times have you seen tennis players
shake hands before they play?  I’ll wait…         So why label someone as a bad sport when she’s not
even breaking any hard and true traditions or rules?  It’s a little unfair if you ask me.    

My good old Bible tells me that there is a time
and a season for everything…that means everything, even handshakes in
tennis.  See the way tennis matches are
set up, the handshake comes after the match is over.  You display your sportsmanship by shaking
your competitor’s hand after the winner has won.  It’s a way of saying: nice match, good job,
no hard feelings, etc.  That’s how you
acknowledge your competitor’s efforts and display your respect for the game and
athleticism. And you know what, Bouchard had every intention on showing that respect
after her match with Dulgheru; win, lose, or draw.  She even said so: “After we play I will shake
her hand, no matter what happens.”  And
she did just that.  Like she had done
countless times before, Bouchard was a good sport and shook Dulgheru’s hand AFTER
the match was over.  Everything seems to
work so seamlessly when done in the right order.

Many people may say, it’s a just a handshake.  They might suggest that since it was just a
simple handshake that Bouchard should have just been willing to suck it up for
the cameras, the sport, the fans, the kids, blah, blah, blah.  To that, I say, she shouldn’t have to.  Bouchard should be allowed to compete and
focus in the best way she knows how.  She
shouldn’t be subjected to name calling because the way she prepares for victory
doesn’t fit some Fed Cup athlete’s new rules of pre-match engagement.  She’s already shown us that she’s not about
that pre-match handshake life and feels more comfortable and genuine when she
doesn’t have to interact much with her opponent before a match, so let her be.  Let’s not make Bouchard, or any athletes, be
nicer than they need to be.  We love them
because they’re fierce competitors, not because they’re down to sing kumbaya
and braid each other’s hair before matches.
     

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