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ASSISTANT SPORTS EDITOR

Published: Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Updated: Wednesday, April 21, 2010 18:04

 

I've always considered myself an astute and knowledgeable sports fan. 
When people have a question for me about, I can usually come up with an answer or at least make up an answer that sounds like it could be correct, but one thing has troubled me ever since I was a child, and I have yet to find the answer: Why do athletes always slap each other's butts after someone has made a good play? 
After years of confusion and scratching my head over why athletes feel as if an open palmed slap on the rear is a way of saying "Congratulations," it is time to find the true definition and meaning of this age-old tradition.
Urbandictionary.com defines the "sportsman's slap" as "a man-to-man slap on the butt to signal congratulations or comradeship." 
Now that everyone is on board with the definition, my investigation will begin.
My curiosity started at the age of five when my father and I were watching a baseball game, and after Cal Ripken, Jr. hit a home run, he was greeted with a pat on the behind when he crossed home plate. 
I asked my father why Ripken's teammate had done that, and my dad simply responded, "because that is what guys do."
So the next day at school in a game of kickball my friend had just scored, and to his confusion, I greeted him with a butt slap. 
I told my friends that that was what the pros did, and thereafter, all of the kindergarten boys at Stowe Elementary School began slapping each other's rears after someone did something good on the kickball court. 
Like in the scene in The Sandlot when the kids all try chewing tobacco like the pros, we did not know what we were doing; we just wanted to be like the pros.
This is where I began my questioning of the butt slap. Now, 14 years later, I still have no idea why the butt slap exists or where it came from. 
Like anything that I am confused about, I went to Google to try to find some answers.
The first site I visited was called "Hardball Mysteries" and had interviews with various baseball players asking why the "swift pat" exists. 
One player said that it exists because you cannot give a high-five to a person who is not looking, so if you are behind them, a gentle pat on the rear gets the job done. 
This player then asks why it is not back-slap or a pat on the arm instead of the behind, and we may never know the answer to that. 
Maybe it is to show people that they are closer and deserving of more than just a slap on the back, and therefore they slap each others butts to show affection. 
This seems logical, but why do players feel the need to show fans that they are very close friends? This Web site did not satisfy my question, so I continued my investigation.
A student at Johns Hopkins University attempted to figure this question out as well, and he came to the conclusion that there is no true reason as to why the sportsman's slap exists. 
He watched videos of baseball and football games, trying to figure out if there was any kind of etiquette for the swift pat. 
He wrote how his research came to no conclusive answer, as butt slaps usually only occurred after good plays as if to say "Nice work," or to say to a teammate after a mistake on the field, "It's alright, get them next time."
I have watched thousands of different games throughout my life, and I too can only come to the conclusion that the butt slap is merely meant as a way of non-verbal communication between teammates. 
After watching so many games though, there are three major rules for the sportsman's slap.
Rule No. 1: Slapping a teammate's rear is not done wantonly. 
If you are not friends with the player and do not know the guy very well, you are not going to go for the behind, so you will slap the back or the arm. 
The better you know a guy, the lower you are allowed to go.
Rule No. 2: Not all butt slaps are created equal. This is an unwritten rule among all men who play sports. 
A quick slap is acceptable and often encouraged, but with anything more than that, there is a problem. 
Man may not squeeze, or cup or even pinch a teammate's rear end. 
It is understood that the quick and painless slap is the only acceptable touching below the belt between teammates.
Rule No. 3: The sportsman's slap can only be used on the field. 
If a man attempts to use the slap in the workplace, it may not be received as well. When I originally asked my father why the slap exists or if he does it at his insurance office he looked at me confusedly and answered "absolutely not." 
The butt slap is referred to as the "sportsman's slap" for a reason as it is only acceptable on the ball field. No exceptions.
Those are the rules for the sportsman's slap. It is simple, innocent and highly acceptable in the male community. 
The slap is like an evolution of the high-five. The high-five is a way for children to say "congratulations" or "hello" to each other. 
Then from about the age of 12 to 15 the high-five becomes nerdy and "uncool" and the fist pound is introduced and widely used. 
After age 15, any form of bodily communication is then acceptable. The high-five makes a comeback, the pound stays in style, the handshake is accepted and the butt slap is introduced and deemed appropriate.
While I did not find an answer to my question of when the butt slap was introduced and why it is so wildly popular, I did learn about the use and rules behind it. 
After watching so many games and events in my life, the question still remains as to why male athletes see a need to slap their teammates on the rear. 
I may never know the reason for this, and spend my whole life curious, searching for the answer. 
While I did learn about different types of butt slaps and how it is just another way of saying congratulations or a subtle encouragement, I am still baffled as to the true origins and reasons behind the sportsman's slap.  

Maybe my dad was right when I posed this question at age five. Maybe it is just what guys do.

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