ESPN 30 for 30 Shorts: The High Five (2014)

Directed by Michael Jacobs

The secret, of course, is to look at the elbow of the person you are high fiving with. Always makes for the perfect connection and greatest satisfaction. The high five is one of those things, isn’t it? No one ever really thinks about it at all, it just happens. A natural reaction of elation. When people do think about it, they often put way too much thought into. The fancy, rehearsed high fives that are prevalent on every high school baseball team, etc. When I was in high school, I orchestrated one such intricate slapping of the hands. To this day I am quite proud of it, and show it off whenever anyone shows interest. But what I never would have thought about was where the high five came from. One of the earlier shorts in this series was about the origin of the “Arnold Palmer” drink. That’s obvious enough, isn’t it? By the high five? It must have been around forever.

I was shocked to find out that the high five wasn’t even around for Bobby Thompson’s “Shot Heard Round the World” or Ted Williams famous all-star home run. I guess I always assumed it was a thing, a commonality that dated back to the birth of sport. Come to find out that it was invented by a promising young Dodger who happened to be gay, and as a result was forced out of the game much too soon before his talent could shine through along with his infectious personality. Nowadays, we have Michael Sam in the NFL and Jason Collins of the NBA breaking barriers as openly gay athletes. Back in the day, however, gays existed in professional sports, just the unspoken of variety. By all indications, Glenn Burke was known to his teammates to be gay, but that was okay because he was talented and brought a great deal of enthusiasm for the game and for the team.

Michael Jacob’s film is special for a few reasons, but first and foremost is its very human treatment not only of the Glenn Burke, but also of the phenomenon of the high five itself. It’s very natural, and I think the two connect in that very way. Glenn Burke was who he was, and by all accounts his treatment as a ballplayer was unfair, while his treatment as a teammate was, for the most part, very positive. As was explained, the business side of “would the average dad take his son to see a gay ballplayer play centerfield” very much came into play back in the 1970s. I fear the same could be said in this day an age. But that’s who Burke was, he was gay. Just as with that, it was in his nature to raise his hand up in celebration when Dusty Baker hit his 30th home run of the season, just as it was in Dusty’s nature to reach up and hit Glenn’s hand.

*** – Good

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