Forgive me, but two days later I’m still fascinated. I know I shouldn’t be. I know it’s something we’re not really supposed to talk about. 610 Sports Radio’s Nick Wright declared it a topic “not worthy of much discussion” (and then, of course, gave it much discussion).
On NFL.com, it’s still listed among the top headlines on the homepage. An AP story called it “perhaps the most intriguing” storyline “on another Sunday of many intriguing storylines”—a day that included one coach disgracing his brother’s defense to win in the final seconds of overtime in Cleveland, an almost-over-the-hill future Hall-of-Famer fumbling all over the field in Chicago, the last winless team winning in Buffalo, and a Hail-Mary pass batted down and then caught to break a tie with no time left in Jacksonville.
I am not exaggerating all that much when I say that it was the first, if not only subject being discussed yesterday on any Chiefs-related talk show or blog I checked in on (this blog, of course, being a notable and proud exception to the overkill—until now, I guess). I opened the sports section this morning and half-expected to see this in the injury report:
QUESTIONABLE: HC Todd Haley (Ego)
In terms of the “snub-ject matter” of the discussion, there are really only two viewpoints:
One: When Haley declined Denver Coach Josh McDaniels’s outstretched hand and chose instead to address him with a post-game greeting of “There’s a lot of [bleep] being talked about you” (according to audio from WDAF-TV), he was merely sharing—as a courtesy, perhaps—an observation of which McDaniels himself might not have been aware. Sure, Haley might have let his emotions get the better of him, but that’s understandable considering the brutal hit Denver linebacker and cheap-shot artist (and all-around great guy to his friends, I’m sure) Joe Mays put on Chiefs tight end Tony Moeaki during an onside kick in the final minutes. There was also speculation that Haley was upset at the way the Broncos were laughing on their sideline, and that he felt Denver was trying to drive up the score (which, if they were, they failed to really do). Perhaps he felt that he was owed some kind of quid-pro-quo for the fact that, when the roles of the rout were reversed last year, Jamaal Charles sat out the final minutes even though he was only 37 yards short of setting the single-game rushing record (incidentally, Charles finished Sunday’s game just 255 yards shy of the record).
Two: Todd Haley let his emotions get the better of him and he acted unprofessionally. Period. This is the view of most commentators (including most posters and commenters on this blog) and most NFL types (including even Haley, assuming his relaxed-if-indirect-and-not-totally-sincere-sounding Monday apology is indeed genuine).
Whatever. I’m more fascinated by the fascination. First of all, I’m glad for the distraction—”The Snub” gave everyone something to talk about (and me to write about) besides the all-around failure that preceded it. In that way, Haley’s insult allowed us to overlook the real injury for a moment. When offered a choice of “So it seems the Chiefs gave us playoff dreams just to crush them more painfully than before” or “That Todd Haley is, you know, kind of being a jackass,” which would you rather analyze first?
But truthfully, there is more to our reaction than that. As I reflected on all this reflection—and tried very hard not to get drawn in to writing about it—I realized that there is something more at stake here than manners or meaningless formalities. When Haley gave the finger—even though it was just his index finger—instead of his hand, he really did break an unwritten rule.* That’s not to say that he deliberately committed some unforgivable offense, but that the volume of our response says much about how we’re invested as fans.
*I did not know this before today, but in the NCAA, it actually is a written rule—college coaches are required to shake hands before and after games.
According to scholarly sources,* the handshake supposedly originated as a sign of peace between adversaries, to show that their hands held no weapons. In sporting contests, it’s a gesture that’s supposed to make everything alright, even if it’s only symbolic. It’s a reminder that this is just a game.
*Wikipedia – duh.
The uproar over this incident reminded me of a brilliant post Joe Posnanski wrote a few weeks ago on a much more serious issue, in the wake of the NFL’s crackdown on helmet-to-helmet hits: “We want to believe that it’s all not as bad as it looks. We need to believe it, so we can enjoy the games.” But when we see the trauma of a massive head injury, he writes, “well, it’s tough to know exactly how to feel.”
A snub is just an insult—not an injury (may Moeaki recover speedily and completely). But when you see your team’s head coach breaking the illusion that this really is just a game, well, it’s tough to know exactly how to feel. And so we talk about it, all day long, even if it seems silly.
Because while the debacle on the field may seem more relevant to the team’s prospects, a lack of sportsmanship somehow reflects more on all of us: It is a sign—in a way that even a lopsided final score is not—that we are definitely not the better side.