We are a baseball family, through and through. We spend most weekends — and weeknights too — watching our kids play on various youth teams. I listen to just about every single Cubs game on my trusted AM radio, and we literally cried when they won the World Series in 2016.
But there is something that has always rubbed me wrong about the sport, and it’s not what happens on the field during the game, but what happens after the game. You see, after every single one of my kids’ games, the kids shake hands with the opposing team after the game. They usually give fist bumps and thank you to the umps too. But you never see this in big leagues.
Until now, that is.
After the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates finished their game Sunday night, the team lined up and shook hands. And it was truly a sight to behold.
The reason for the rare display of post-game sportsmanship? The game was played as part of the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA and thousands of young baseball players from around the world were in attendance. I suppose it could be said that the professionals were trying to set a good example for the kids, but really I think it’s the other way around — the kids are setting the example for the adults.
Because there’s the thing — our kids have a thing or two to teach us about what it means to be a good teammate, a good sport, and a good human.
As I said, we’re a baseball family, and as a result I have spent literally thousands of hours watching youth baseball (along with other sports as well), and here’s what I see time and time again. I see players openly crying on the pitchers mound or as they leave the field following a botched play. I see coaches from the opposing team call out good plays, even if it means an out for their team. I see kids put their arms around each other and tell them “You’ll get it next time,” with never a mention about the tears streaming down their faces. I see kids willingly admit “My fault!” when they miss a play. And I see kids line up at the end of the game to shake hands. Every. Single. Time.
Sure, I’ve also seen a few outbursts — from kids and parents. But generally they are few and far between. And what really stands out is the way kids feel comfortable showing their emotions (yes, there is crying in baseball), pick each other up, and try to be good humans above it all.
But I always find myself wondering, at what point does this change? At what point do they stop shaking hands at the end of a game? At what point does the world tell them to suck it up and hold their tears in? At what point do we stop focusing on teaching them to be good humans and instead focus on winning and hiding their emotions?
Shaking hands at the end of a game shouldn’t be rare and news-worthy event, yet here we are. Same goes for crying on the field, as was the case with Albert Almora Jr. earlier in the season. After all, camaraderie, kindness, and emotions are what it means to be human — to be a good human. So let’s celebrate and encourage that, not just for our kids but also in ourselves.
The fact of the matter is that toxic masculinity runs rampant, and seemingly “innocent” comments like “be a man” and “boys don’t cry” are thrown around with impunity. Seeing a man show emotion is rare, and vulnerability (especially in men) is often frowned upon. But it doesn’t have to be. Grown men can cry and shake hands and lift each other up — like what happened in this Tmblr story. When the original poster saw a group of male friends playing catch, she expected them to mock their friend who didn’t know how to throw a football.
“[O]utside my dorm window these guys were playing catch and they asked their friend to join him and i heard something muttered and then the other guy was like ‘you’re in college and you don’t know how to throw a football?'”
After expecting to hear an onslaught of mocking for the dude who didn’t know how to throw a ball, they wrote that instead “for the last hour they’ve been teaching him how to play.”
Not only did they teach their friend, but they lifted each other up.
“[I’]’ve been listening and i guess you want to catch with your fingertips and use your elbows and bend your knees and think about your wrists and they’re …? actually being so kind and saying like ? some of the most constructive criticism i’ve ever heard surrounded by things like ‘oh! great job on that catch’ ‘sweet throw! now you’re getting it!’ and … my heart has never been so warm.”
SO heartwarming, right? Except it shouldn’t be uncommon. It shouldn’t be out of the ordinary. Because as the Tmblr poster wrote, this should be how our boys are taught to be. This should be how they are encouraged to be.
“[I] just wish this world like told boys… it’s okay to be like this. it’s okay to be supportive and friendly and frankly nurturing to other boys. i wish boys were allowed to be gentle and sweet and kind. boys….. be good, upturn the patriarchal standards and homophobia entrenched in this culture…. go teach a guy how to throw a ball.”
Teach a guy to throw a ball, or how to do a dance move. Let a guy cry on your shoulder. Stop with the “boys don’t cry” bullshit.
And dammit, shake hands at the end of your sporting events. Not just when you think kids are watching either, but all the time. Because, newsflash, kids are always watching.
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