Baseball Players Hug

John Hakes

Dunlap: Sports Doesn’t Need More Hugs, Sorry

June 12, 2018 - 1:41 pm
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The video has made all the rounds. You’ve probably seen it by now. 

In a high school playoff game in Minnesota recently, a pitcher struck out an opposing player with a 17-10 lead and two outs in the final inning. 

Jubilation ensued. 

The requisite dogpile around the mound happened. 

Players jumped and screamed with joy. 

Something different happened here, though --- the pitcher jogged forward (and past his catcher who offered a celebratory embrace) and hugged the dejected batter. Seems the two young men, on different teams, have been friends for some time. 

"Our friendship is more important than just the silly outcome of a game,” the pitcher said in media reports after the game. “I had to make sure he knew that before we celebrated."

And with that, the canonization of this pitcher had begun. 

Oh it came in a bunch of forms. “This is what sportsmanship is all about!” and “that kid was raised right!” and “raising a young man to be compassionate beats everything!” and “this is so amazing, what a role model!” were just some of the responses. 

Great. 

That’s how some feel. 

I’m not here to criticize the pitcher (who I elected to leave nameless in all of this) but I’m not going to make him the Patron Saint of Sportsmanship over this act, either. To be truthful, as a former baseball player, I find it a bit quizzical. Again, that’s not being critical, that’s just being an observer --- I find it awkward. I’m 41 years old now and can see it and offer a pretty much non-committal response upon watching the video at this stage of my life. 

I know this, going back to when I was 17, and if I was on the same team as the pitcher, I would have questioned his commitment to us. I would have wondered if he were all-in. I would have asked myself, “what the hell is he doing?” and wondered “why isn’t he out here with us when we just won this huge game?”

Brotherhood, commitment, we’re a team, togetherness and all that stuff – back then it was an all-or-nothing proposition; you were either for us or against us. Period. 

Is that right or wrong, I don’t know. But I’m just telling you what the truth would have been when I was in high school and it seemed like a baseball game that day --- and a season that time of year --- was the biggest damn thing in our 17-year-old worlds. 

But more to the point with this story, I find the people --- most of them adults --- who say that we need more of this in sports to be totally off base. Sports is about competition; it’s about winning and losing at its fundamental core and, that said, it doesn’t require more hugs or embraces every time someone falls short. From that vantage, we don’t need more of this. Sports is absolutely fine (and this situation would have been fine) when the winners jump all over each other in celebration and the losers have to find a way to pick their dejected and crestfallen selves up after what surely was disappointment. 

If there are incredible extenuating circumstances, I get it. But in this case, it just seems like a kid struck out one of his close friends who happens to go to another school.

Again, I’m not here to criticize the pitcher (although never in a gazillion years would I have done the same thing) and his decision is one that is, well, solely his decision. 

All that said, however, I don’t need to buy into some line of thinking that this is the greatest display of sportsmanship or friendship the world has ever witnessed. For me, it was strange. ​

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