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A Brief History of the High Five

By  · Published on January 5th, 2017

Short of the Day

A documentary provides the answer to a question you never knew you had.

Here’s a question I never thought of today, and I bet you haven’t either: where did the high five come from?

It’s something I’ve done literally thousands of times in my life, it’s as ubiquitous as a handshake or a hug, but not once have I ever considered the gesture’s history. I took it for granted, I just presumed its existence without wondering about its origins. Until today, that is, when the short documentary The High Five by Michael Jacobs (working with ESPN’s 30 For 30 Shorts) came across my screen.

Turns out – as a lot of you probably suspected – professional sports is the institution which introduced popular culture to the high five, specifically baseball. In 1977, Los Angeles Dodger Dusty Baker received the first publicly-broadcast high five in history from teammate Glenn Burke after hitting his 30th home run in the final weekend of the season. Watching the footage, Baker seems almost confused by Burke’s move, and his reaction instinctual: dude saw a hand in the air and slapped it. And history was made.

Jacobs doesn’t just dwell on this father of all high fives, but rather uses it as a point of departure for exploring the cultural evolution of the high five, its path to ubiquity, if you will, as well as its effect on Burke, the progenitor of the gesture who has been largely replaced in the narrative by Baker because he is (and was at the time) openly gay.

Burke is also black. And not Steve Garvey.

You don’t need to be a sports fan at all to enjoy this brief doc, anyone interested in our modern anthropology will be fascinated with the history Jacobs has unearthed, as well as the social issues buried beneath the exuberance of the move.

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