It’s my impression that professional athletes these days are more openly supportive of teammates than in years past. It’s true, for example, that pitchers over the years have taught other moundsmen the tricks of the trade, that rookies were taken under the wings of veterans and that in the clubhouse or after games teammates in most all sports enjoyed hanging out and socializing, but I’m talking here about on-field, game time behavior. Mutual support and encouragement seem more obvious and frequent nowadays.
Baseball offers us many an example from perfunctory rituals to the far more demonstrative expressions (such as bench clearing brawls in support of fellow players). A batter singles up the middle and can, as a result, expect a pat on the back or butt by his first base coach. A pitcher watches as a line drive rockets toward the gap in left center, but is snared when the leftfielder lays out and catches it to end the inning. He points his glove in approval, then waits near the mound for the fielder to arrive and promptly extends for a high five. Or with the pitcher seemingly on the ropes, the veteran shortstop arrives at the mound to offer advice and encouragement, after which the pitcher manages to dig himself out of a hole and, upon entering the dugout, is greeted warmly by his teammates.
Batters who succeed can also expect an enthusiastic reception. A hitter who bunts successfully and advances the runner will be congratulated upon his return to the dugout, as will one whose sacrifice fly scores the runner from third. Of course there’s nothing quite like the response of teammates to a hitter who has just belted a walk off home run. Everyone pours out of the dugout and rushes toward the plate. Once the batter touches home he is mobbed, pummeled, sometimes driven to the ground, his team mates stretched out on top of him. Then with the game over, team members remain on the field, form a line with handshakes extended to all around – an on-field ritual of rejoicing of recent vintage.
In basketball, players are introduced individually by the public address announcer as they bound onto the court. They then welcome and embrace as each teammate strides onto the court. And before the tipoff all gather together, hold hands and offer up a rousing cheer.
With the game underway other gestures of open support follow. When two foul shots are awarded it becomes obligatory for teammates to slap hands with the shooter whether or not he’s made his first attempt. When a player falls and hits the court his teammates never fail to rush over to help him up. If one hits a three-pointer, or skillfully assists on a basket, teammates are quick to acknowledge his contribution, even as they scamper back on defense. Likewise, players on the bench leap to their feet and erupt into cheers and high fives after a critical basket. And when that player heads to the bench for a breather he’s greeted enthusiastically by those sitting on the sidelines. Of course, in basketball as in all team sports, teammates rush in to defend a player who’s been pushed, shoved or verbally abused by an opponent. Right or wrong, they fly to his defense.
Football is no exception here. A player who’s made a great play and returns to the bench can expect a procession of team members to arrive and offer their congratulations. Teammates rush over to pick each other up if they’ve been knocked down or fallen and to defend one another when a fight seems imminent. Predictably touchdown celebrations are exuberant and occasionally excessive. Players pile on top of one another, the scorer swamped beneath layers of mammoth bodies.
Have I made my point? Still old timers may claim that mutual support always was part of the game. They’re entitled to their opinions, but they would best check their facts.