Morris: Fist bump shakes up an old tradition

February 12, 2010 

Move over, handshake. The fist bump is here to stay. Out with the old, bad custom. In with the much more hip, sensible greeting.

The fist bump - the knuckles-to-knuckles tap, if you will - is slowly but surely forcing the traditional handshake into coat pockets. Give the world of sports all the credit. The fist bump has transcended athletics and become an integral part of society.

Tiger Woods long ago stopped shaking hands. So, too, did Steve Spurrier. While it might have started as a more modish way to shake hands, the fist bump has become a better way to prevent the passing of germs.

"I don't do it to everybody," Spurrier said recently of fist bumping, seconds after he extended a fist for a "hello" bump. "I (fist bump) people I don't know."

How we got to this point - I admit, I'm a late-comer to the fist bump - requires a history lesson.

The origin of the handshake, according to many sources on the Internet, traces to medieval Europe. A handshake was more like an armshake, since the purpose was to make certain the other party did not have a weapon concealed up his or her sleeve. These days, the feared hidden weapon is a virus or possibly the flu.

Eventually the armshake shook down to a handshake. My guess is the advent of short-sleeved shirts played a role in this shift, but I can find no evidence to support my theory.

My other guess is that the mass spreading of germs began about the time handshaking became a worldwide custom. This, as you know, occurred before the advent of Gent-L-Kleen hand-washing products.

Now, we have every product imaginable to prevent the spread of germs, not to mention flu shots. Yet, germs keep jumping from one body to the next. Most of the blame, if not all, falls on that bad custom of sneezing, shaking hands and passing the microorganisms.

"Handshakes are one of the most common causes of spreading infectious diseases in the winter," says Dr. Allen Wenner, a Lexington family physician, who points out there are vastly more sweat glands on the palm of the hand than the hand's backside. "I think the fist bump is an excellent method of avoiding the transmission of diseases."

There are others outside of sports who bump rather than shake. Comedian Howie Mandel, the host of TV's popular "Deal or No Deal," brought fist bumping to the small screen. Mandel has mysophobia, or the fear of germs, and does not shake hands unless he is wearing latex gloves.

Then Barack and Michelle Obama went political with what is now commonly known as the "fist bump heard around the world." The two knocked knuckles in celebration of Obama's Democratic nomination for president.

The Obamas' fist bump in June of 2008 introduced the power-greeting fist bump to mainstream America. They made it OK for businessmen - businesswomen are coming around more slowly - to exchange taps of the closed fist instead of shaking hands. They moved the fist bump from the sports field to the water cooler.

Football, soccer and baseball players have been on the cutting edge of exchanging pleasantries for decades. The hand slap was introduced to sports in the 1980s and eventually morphed into the high-five, replacing forever the traditional handshake during celebrations.

Eventually, the high-fives, low-fives and all the other fives were replaced by the fist bump. The handshake on athletic fields was virtually eliminated, unless you count the traditional exchanges between managers and umpires at home plate before baseball games and the midfield formality between coaches before college football games.

During his days as coach at Duke and his early days in the same position at Florida, Spurrier liked to shake the hand of each player on his team before a game. Then, in the mid-1990s, he changed.

"When you go around the locker room, these guys are sweating, their hands are all over the place," Spurrier says. "So you just bump around the locker room. I always try to do that before the game with everybody."

Spurrier eventually took his fist bumping to the office and out in public. He has been somewhat of a pioneer of fist bumping over the past decade or so, and certainly during his first five seasons at USC. Seldom does Spurrier shake a hand, whether the event is an official USC gathering of dignitaries or a Gamecock Club fundraiser.

Spurrier appears to be gaining followers within his football coaching staff and within the USC athletics department. One by one, folks at USC are converting, shedding the old, bad custom of handshaking and replacing it with the more trendy, practical and sensible first bump.

The fist bump is the future. Pass it on.

Watch commentaries by Morris Mondays at 6 and 11 p.m. on ABC Columbia News (WOLO-TV)

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