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Sunday, June 23, 2024

Column: The now-infamous softball push: Why UF's coach deserves more of the blame

<p>UF head coach Tim Walton puts his hands on his knees during Florida's 15-7 win against Bethune-Cookman on Wednesday night at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium.</p>

UF head coach Tim Walton puts his hands on his knees during Florida's 15-7 win against Bethune-Cookman on Wednesday night at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium.

How often is Florida’s softball team cast under the national spotlight for something that happens after a game?

Almost never.

That was until Monday night, when Florida lost 1-0 to Auburn and immediately after the loss during the high-five line, Tigers shortstop Haley Fagan and Gators head coach Tim Walton got into it.

 

Florida softball coach Tim Walton and an Auburn player got into a heated exchange during the postgame handshake line.

A post shared by SportsCenter (@sportscenter) on Mar 27, 2017 at 9:11pm PDT

Though the sequence of events is up for interpretation, here’s how I saw it: Fagan dropped her hand, choosing not to high-five Walton at least a couple players before the two would’ve slapped palms. Walton, who had plenty of time to see what was happening in front of him, chose to high-five Fagan’s shoulder instead. An annoyed Fagan then pushed Walton’s back before the two exchanged words.

What you also need to know is the backstory here.

Back in 2012, Walton dismissed Fagan’s sisters — Kasey and Sami — along with Cheyenne Coyle from the program following a team altercation.

The details as to why never fully emerged.

So it’s safe to say Monday night some of that bad blood between Walton and the Fagan family spilled onto the field.

And it was all very petty, from both sides.

But Walton was in the wrong more than Fagan was, and here’s why.

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Nowhere in the NCAA rulebook does it say a player has to high-five every single member of the high-five line (though page one does say sportsmanship is a core value of the NCAA). Heck, she doesn’t even have to say “good game” to anyone if she doesn’t feel like it.

Think of it like standing for the Pledge of Allegiance in school. Sure, everyone else expects you to take part, but by no means is it mandatory.

I’ve played baseball for nearly my entire life, and I’ve congratulated every player of the opposing team I’ve shared the field with.

But if someone didn’t want to fist bump? Fine by me. Be the poor sport you are.

What Walton should have done was put his hand down too, and thought to himself, “Man, I sure am glad that brat isn’t on my team.”

Instead, he brushed Fagan’s shoulder and issued an apology through the team’s Twitter account less than a day later.

“I apologize to Haley. I just wanted to congratulate Auburn on the win – it was a good series,” Walton said. “My intent was to give a high-five to each opposing player as we do after every game. Apparently, her hand wasn’t up as I said ‘good game’ and I touched her shoulder. I should have paid closer attention and did not intend to upset her.”

He went on.

“I regret that this has taken attention away from the effort and sportsmanship both teams displayed all weekend.”

The key word there is “apparently.” I believe Walton knew exactly what he was doing, but I’ll let you be the judge.

Sports are emotional. Players and coaches get heated. That I have no problem accepting.

But this was different.

This wasn’t like the time LSU running back Leonard Fournette shoved Florida defensive backs coach Torrian Gray in a pregame scuffle this past football season.

Players are childish all the time. That much seems pretty obvious.

But coaches — especially at a school like the University of Florida — should hold themselves to higher standards.

Patrick Pinak is the online sports editor. His column appears on Thursdays. Contact him at ppinak@alligator.org, and follow him on Twitter @pinakk12.

UF head coach Tim Walton puts his hands on his knees during Florida's 15-7 win against Bethune-Cookman on Wednesday night at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium.

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