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Why Do Athletes Slap Each Others’ Butts?

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Funscrape.com

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 “High fives are becoming outdated.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.”

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Big Questions
Why Does Asparagus Make Your Pee Smell Funny?
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The asparagus has a long and storied history. It was mentioned in the myths and the scholarly writings of ancient Greece, and its cultivation was the subject of a detailed lesson in Cato the Elder's treatise, On Agriculture. But it wasn't until the turn of the 18th century that discussion of the link between asparagus and odorous urine emerged. In 1731, John Arbuthnot, physician to Queen Anne, noted in a book about food that asparagus "affects the urine with a foetid smell ... and therefore have been suspected by some physicians as not friendly to the kidneys." Benjamin Franklin also noticed that eating asparagus "shall give our urine a disagreeable odor."

Since then, there has been debate over what is responsible for the stinky pee phenomenon. Polish chemist and doctor Marceli Nencki identified a compound called methanethiol as the cause in 1891, after a study that involved four men eating about three and a half pounds of asparagus apiece. In 1975, Robert H. White, a chemist at the University of California at San Diego, used gas chromatography to pin down several compounds known as S-methyl thioesters as the culprits. Other researchers have blamed various "sulfur-containing compounds" and, simply, "metabolites."

More recently, a study demonstrated that asparagusic acid taken orally by subjects known to produce stinky asparagus pee produced odorous urine, which contained the same volatile compounds found in their asparagus-induced odorous urine. Other subjects, who normally didn't experience asparagus-induced odorous urine, likewise were spared stinky pee after taking asparagusic acid.

The researchers concluded that asparagusic acid and its derivatives are the precursors of urinary odor (compared, in different scientific papers, to the smell of "rotten cabbage," "boiling cabbage" and "vegetable soup"). The various compounds that contribute to the distinct smell—and were sometimes blamed as the sole cause in the past—are metabolized from asparagusic acid.

Exactly how these compounds are produced as we digest asparagus remains unclear, so let's turn to an equally compelling, but more answerable question:

WHY DOESN'T ASPARAGUS MAKE YOUR PEE SMELL FUNNY?

Remember when I said that some people don't produce stinky asparagus pee? Several studies have shown that only some of us experience stinky pee (ranging from 20 to 40 percent of the subjects taking part in the study, depending on which paper you read), while the majority have never had the pleasure.

For a while, the world was divided into those whose pee stank after eating asparagus and those whose didn't. Then in 1980, a study complicated matters: Subjects whose pee stank sniffed the urine of subjects whose pee didn't. Guess what? The pee stank. It turns out we're not only divided by the ability to produce odorous asparagus pee, but the ability to smell it.

An anosmia—an inability to perceive a smell—keeps certain people from smelling the compounds that make up even the most offensive asparagus pee, and like the stinky pee non-producers, they're in the majority.

Producing and perceiving asparagus pee don't go hand-in-hand, either. The 1980 study found that some people who don't produce stinky pee could detect the rotten cabbage smell in another person's urine. On the flip side, some stink producers aren't able to pick up the scent in their own urine or the urine of others.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
What Legal Authority Does Judge Judy Have?
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While Judith Sheindlin was a real, live judge—New York City Mayor Ed Koch appointed her to family court in 1982 and then made her Manhattan's supervising family court judge in 1986—she's not acting as one on her show. Neither are any of the other daytime TV judges (whether they passed the bar and served as actual judges or not).

TV court shows don't take place in real courtrooms and they don't feature real trials, though they are usually real cases—the producers often contact parties who have pending litigation in small claims court and offer them the opportunity to appear on TV instead. What you're seeing on these TV court shows is really just arbitration playing dress-up in small claims court's clothes.

Arbitration is a legal method for resolving disputes outside the court. The disputing parties present their cases to a neutral, third-party arbitrator or arbitrators who hear the case, examine the evidence, and make a (usually binding) decision. Like a court-based case, arbitration is adversarial, but generally less formal in its rules and procedures.

The power that Judge Judy and the rest of the TV arbitrators have over the disputing parties is granted by a contract, specific to their case, that they sign before appearing on the show. These contracts make the arbitrators' decision final and binding, prevent the disputing parties from negotiating the terms of the arbitration, and allow the "judges" wide discretion on procedural and evidentiary rules during the arbitration.

TV judges make their decision on the case and either decide for the plaintiff, in which case the show's producers award them a judgment fee, or with the defendant, in which case the producers award both parties with an appearance fee. This system seems to skew things in favor of the defendants and gives them an incentive to take their case from court to TV. If they have a weak case, appearing on the show absolves them of any financial liability; if they have a strong case, they stand to earn an appearance fee along with their victory.

If one party or the other doesn't like the arbitrator's decision, it can really only be successfully appealed if it addresses a matter outside the scope of the contract. In 2000, Judge Judy had one of her decisions overturned for that reason by the Family Court of Kings County. In the case B.M. v. D.L., the parties appeared in front of Sheindlin to solve a personal property dispute. Sheindlin ruled on that dispute, but also made a decision on the parties' child custody and visitation rights. One of the parties appealed in court, and the family court overturned the custody and visitation part of the decision because they weren't covered by the agreement to arbitrate.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

This post originally appeared in 2012.

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