Why Do Athletes Slap Each Others’ Butts?

Tom Pennington / Getty
Tom Pennington / Getty

On Monday, NFL wide receiver Chad Johnson was sentenced to 30 days in jail for violating his probation. The judge rejected his plea bargain, which would have kept Johnson out of jail, after she took offense to Johnson playfully tapping his lawyer on the butt. 

"I don't know that you're taking this whole thing seriously. I just saw you slap your attorney on the backside. Is there something funny about this?" the Associated Press reports the judge, Kathleen McHugh, saying. "The whole courtroom was laughing. I'm not going to accept these plea negotiations. This isn't a joke."

Light taps to the rear-end are pretty common on the football field, but maybe Johnson shouldn’t have tried it out in court. Why do athletes do that?

Unfortunately, the first athlete to playfully slap a teammate on the butt didn’t record his reasoning for history, but it’s become common practice among professionals and amateurs alike, and many have their own take on it. In 2007, Johns Hopkins News-Letter editor Mary Doman asked some of the school’s athletes about it and got a variety of responses about the “extra-low five.”

A freshman tennis player told her that the meaning of the butt slap is pretty open-ended depending on the context and relationship between slapper and slappee. “Well, a nice smack on the butt could mean anything,” he said. “It can just mean, ‘Nice job,’ or ‘You’ll get them next time,’ but it can also mean simply, ‘Hi, how you doin’?', or ‘How’s that essay coming along?’, or, ‘Wow, your butt is pretty muscly today. You been working out?’”

A freshman lacrosse player explained that the butt slap was just a variation of the congratulatory shoulder or back slap, moved lower as a reflection of the intimacy between two players. “Two teammates who aren’t best buddies tend to slap each other on the shoulder or upper back,” he said. “Teammates who are pretty tight go for the mid to lower back. Teammates who see each other as brothers go for the real deal and slap each other’s asses.”

A freshman football player also thought that the gesture was congratulatory, and theorized that it suited the needs of players on the field. “High fives are becoming outdated. Handshakes work, but eye contact is made and it takes too much time,” the player told Doman. “A smack on the ass can be used any time.” 

A freshman fencer mused that the butt slap was a little more complex, an expression of every man’s desire “to be a cowboy.”

Cowboys give their horses a slap on the behind to get them moving, so, the fencer thought, “likewise with sports, men need to commune and help motivate one another as a team. It’s standard practice and common courtesy to slap another man’s ass if you feel he is slacking.”

Whatever any one player’s reason for slapping someone else’s butt, the sporting world learned a valuable lesson this week about keeping it on the field and out of more formal settings. In some parts of the world, though, even a slap during a game is too risque. In 2011, two Iranian soccer players were suspended and received pay cuts for a butt slap during a match. The national football federation’s disciplinary committee called the gesture an “immoral offense.”

6 Times the Olympics Have Been Postponed or Canceled

Sander van Ginkel, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0
Sander van Ginkel, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo have been officially postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan agreed to push the start date back to 2021 after Canada, Australia, and other countries announced they would not send athletes to the Summer Games this July.

The Summer Olympics is the biggest sporting event in the world, typically bringing more than 10,000 athletes from dozens of countries together every four years, The New York Times reports.

It's extremely rare for the Summer or Winter Olympics to be postponed or canceled. Since 1896, when the modern Olympic Games began, it has happened only six times—and it usually requires a war.

The Olympic Games were canceled during World War I and World War II. The 1940 Summer Games, scheduled to take place in Tokyo, were postponed due to war and moved to Helsinki, Finland, where they were later canceled altogether. The current coronavirus pandemic marks the first time the competition has ever been temporarily postponed for a reason other than war. Here's the full list.

  1. 1916 Summer Olympics // Berlin, Germany
  1. 1940 Summer Olympics // Tokyo, Japan and Helsinki, Finland
  1. 1940 Winter Olympics // Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
  1. 1944 Summer Olympics // London, United Kingdom
  1. 1944 Winter Olympics // Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy
  1. 2020 Summer Olympics // Tokyo, Japan

6 Surprising Ways Baseball Actually Favors Lefties

Left-handed pitcher Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers during game five of the National League Division Series in 2019.
Left-handed pitcher Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers during game five of the National League Division Series in 2019.
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

If you grew up playing baseball, tee-ball, softball, or any other derivative of America’s favorite pastime, you might be familiar with certain positions left-handed people are unofficially prohibited from playing—you’ll hardly ever see a left-handed shortstop or third baseman, for example, because they’d be facing the wrong direction for any throws to the right side of the field. However, there are plenty of other parts of the game that are equally important as efficiently making outs at first or second base, and some of them can even favor lefties. Read on to find out how left-handed batters, pitchers, and more have an edge against their right-handed competitors below.

1. Left-handed pitchers have a better view of first base.

Since a left-handed pitcher faces first base when he’s gearing up to pitch, he can easily see if a first base runner is leading off (i.e. taking a few steps off the bag, with the intention to steal second base). This makes for some pretty spectacular fake-outs where a pitcher will feign throwing a pitch and instead flip it to the first baseman, who can tag the runner out before he can get a foot (or finger) back on the bag.

2. Left-handed batters are closer to first base.

Left-handed batters are simply standing a little closer to first base than right-handed batters. As former MLB player Doug Bernier explained for Pro Baseball Insider, an extra step or so can be the difference between getting thrown out at first base or making it safely there, especially if it’s an infield hit. That said, not everyone agrees the slightly shorter distance to first base is enough to give left-handed batters an advantage on infield hits in general. In a 2007 article for The Hardball Times, John Walsh argued that since lefties hit more ground balls into the right half of the infield—giving first and second basemen a shorter distance to cover to make the out at first—their one-step head start isn’t statistically significant overall.

3. Left-handed batters’ momentum is already carrying them in the direction of first base.

Even if a shorter distance to first base isn’t enough to give a left-handed batter the edge on every occasion, he also has the laws of physics on his side. When a lefty swings, the momentum of the bat is moving to the right—i.e. toward first base—so he gets to run in the same direction he’s already moving. Righties, on the other hand, swing toward third base and have to break the momentum to sprint in the opposite direction. Dr. David A. Peters, a professor of engineering at Washington University in St. Louis (and baseball aficionado), calculated that lefties’ momentum means they’re able to travel to first base about one-sixth of a second faster than righties.

4. Left-handed first basemen are facing the right direction to throw the ball to another infielder.

If the ball is hit to a left-handed first baseman, he’s already in the ideal position—with his right foot closest to his target—to throw it just about anywhere else in the infield. This is especially helpful when there’s an opportunity to make an out at second or third base, which he’d usually prioritize over the first base out. A right-handed first baseman, on the other hand, might have to pivot as much as 180 degrees to get his left foot where it needs to be to throw it to another infielder.

5. Left-handed batters perform better against right-handed pitchers, which are more abundant.

In baseball, it’s generally agreed that batters fare better when hitting against opposite-handed (OH) pitchers, so much so that coaches sometimes stack their batting lineups with lefties when they know a righty will be pitching, and vice versa. “With the dominance of right-handed pitchers in the game,” Dan Peterson writes for gameSense Sports, “the left-handed hitter comes to the plate with a built-in advantage.” The advantage itself has to do with the direction of the pitches.

“With a right-handed release to a right-handed batter, the ball seems to be coming right at him,” Peterson explains. “The same pitch coming from the opposite side provides a better view across the body.”

6. Right field is shorter than left field in some parks.

detroit tigers comerica park aerial view
An aerial view of the Detroit Tigers' Comerica Park.
NASA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

When professional baseball stadiums first started cropping up in the late 19th century, there wasn’t a league-wide set of dimensions to standardize their size and shape (in fact, for the most part, there still isn’t). Since the majority of batters were right-handed—and, as such, more likely to hit the ball into left field—some stadiums featured left fields that were significantly deeper than their right fields. Take Philadelphia’s Columbia Park II, which opened in 1901 with a 340-foot left field and a 280-foot right field. Those short right fields meant left-handed batters would have an easier time hitting home runs. While most modern stadiums have quite literally evened the playing field with more symmetrical dimensions, some of them still have discrepancies; the right field foul pole at the Detroit Tigers’ Comerica Park, for example, is a whole 15 feet closer to home plate than its left field foul pole.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER