Greeting hugs with a shrug

When the National Football League conducted its annual draft of college players last week, a recurring ritual played out.

After each selection was revealed, the draftee hugged his family members for their love, hugged his friends for their support, then walked up onto the stage and hugged the commissioner of the league, whose only connection at that point had been to announce the player’s name and identify the team that had drafted him.

Sports historians say the practice of hugging the commissioner began in 2010 when a player named Gerald McCoy, overwhelmed at being chosen by the Tampa Bay Bucaneers, impulsively wrapped his arms around Commissioner Roger Goodell. Heaven only knows what he might have done with the commissioner if he’d been selected by a good team.

Since then the commissioner has received more hugs than a Jewish grandmother. There’s even a website tracking notable hugs. Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and Goodell, for instance, clinched for more than 10 seconds; whether they respected each other in the morning is not known.

But commissioner-hugging is merely the latest manifestation of what has become a hugging epidemic. Hugging has become as indiscriminate — and frequently as sincere — as air kissing. Athletes hug their teammates and their opponents. Teenagers hug each other. Gang members hug each other. World leaders hug each other, although not all of them, of course. Queen Elizabeth II isn’t known for her huggability, and it’s hard to imagine Kim Jong Un hugging anything other than his nuclear missiles.

And it’s not limited to humans. People hug their dogs, cats and gerbils. Oct. 27 has been declared National Hug a Sheep Day.

Not that hugging is a bad thing. Psychiatrists say hugging is good for your emotional health. If there were more hugging, some say, the world might be a nicer place. Although, even with all this hugging, the world doesn’t seem much nicer today than it ever was.

But as a member of the handshake generation, I’m saving my hugs for relatives and very close friends. When my tennis buddies and I finish playing, we limit our displays of affection to sincere handshakes and knuckle knocks. We have considered leaping into the air and bumping hips the way many athletes today do, but decided against that when we realized it probably would result in sincerely broken bones.

So I hope Roger Goodell won’t be too disappointed if he announces my name in the college draft next year and all he gets from me is a firm handshake.

And if I happen to meet a sheep on Oct. 27, it’s going to have to settle for a sincere knuckle knock.

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