What's the point of forced handshakes?

I'm not a big fan of organized handshakes. Never have been. The act always seemed forced and more of an obligation than anything truly genuine, even going back to youth sports.

I understand that it is supposed to be about sportsmanship, and I respect that. Is it really sportsmanship, however, if it is an obligation? The fact that it is pretty much coerced takes all of the meaning out of the act.

I always thought that lining up to slap hands and say "good game" to every member of the other team was one of the most pointless exercises in sports. It was bad enough to have to do it in Little League and up through high school, but in college, I felt like a complete and utter dork. Is there really a need for me to slap hands with all 100 guys on the other team, 60 of whom never even got inside the white lines? Pointless.

That's why the NFL does it right, at least from a player's perspective. If there is someone on the other team you know, or perhaps an opponent whom you respect and want to seek out after the game, then that is great. That is natural. That feels right. If not, and you just want to go into the locker room and shower, that's fine too.

The issue has come to light, of course, after the "Handshakegate" event that took place between 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh and Lions head coach Jim Schwartz after Sunday's game in Detroit. If the handshake is about sportsmanship and sending a good message to the young people and lower-level coaches watching, consider Sunday an epic failure for both men. The NFL then swung and missed on an opportunity to set that example when it decided not to discipline the coaches.

What do you think the league office would have done if there had been a similar incident between two players? Exactly.

Whatever happened to the notion that team employees were supposed to be held to an even higher standard?

The standard that the NFL has set is that there is no threat of discipline unless punches are thrown. That's just great. Don't be shocked if there are more incidents like this. Can't you just imagine the explanations?

"I learned it by watching you, Coach."

Fortunately, incidents like this are not as likely to happen among players because they aren't forced to greet their direct combatant after the game according to some longstanding unwritten rule. Thank goodness. I had no interest most times in talking to the guy I was just trying to physically punish for 60 minutes, especially after what he might have said about my mom in the third quarter.

Don't get me wrong. There are some handshake traditions that are amazing, like the one in hockey at the end of a playoff series where both teams shake hands. But that's because those guys look like they really mean it. They don't appear to be doing it because they are compelled to, even if that is the genesis of it.

The handshake between head coaches in the NFL typically is not done for any reason other than it is what the coaches are supposed to do, just like the players at lower levels of sports. But is it really sportsmanship if people are just doing it because they have to? I say no.

From the inbox

Q. What is the significance of identifying the middle or "mike" linebacker? Is it the center's responsibility or the quarterback's? Why are they constantly doing it -- isn't the middle linebacker the same guy on every play?

Tom from Waterloo, N.Y.

A. This is a great question because it is something everyone hears and sees every game. Some teams have the quarterback do it while others want the center to point him out, but the reasoning is the same. Identifying the "mike" linebacker, who is not always going to be the defender listed as the middle backer depending on formation, sets the defense for the offense. Every player with a blocking assignment and even some who are going out for a pass pattern base their assignments on the "mike point," as they call it. This is especially critical when the QB sees a blitz coming and "re-declares" who the mike linebacker is on a particular play.

Q. Further to your column on offensive line play: in your view, how important is continuity to the offensive line? If you were a GM, would you rather draft slightly more talented linemen year in year out, or would you prefer to keep an "adequate" five players together as a unit?

Greg from Cary, N.C.

A. I'd take continuity. Too many times I've seen teams try to bring in a couple of free agents to shore up the line, and it just takes too long for those groups to mesh. Communication, often of the non-verbal variety, is paramount among offensive linemen, more than any other position. Because offensive linemen work in tandem so often, it is vital that you have a feel for what the other linemen are going to do in certain situations. If you look at some of the better lines in recent years, like the Jets, Giants, Titans and Patriots, keeping those groups together and those guys healthy are the most important factors for success.

Q. When East Coast teams come back from a game on the West Coast, when does the plane usually leave? For a game that ends around 4:30pm, it seems like you might end up arriving back home in the middle of the night with the time change. What is the practice/film schedule the day after a trip like this?

Kevin from San Diego

A. NFL teams always try to leave as soon as possible after the game and never stay in the city where they played. The buses usually leave the stadium an hour after the game. Sometimes they will push all of the Monday meetings back a couple of hours if they don't get back until very late. This is especially true for Sunday night games on the road. On Monday nights, it is typically not a factor because the players are off on Tuesday anyway.

Ross Tucker, who played on the offensive line for five teams in a seven-year NFL career, writes regularly for ESPN.com.