August 19, 2015

Mixed Feelings About James Harrison And Participation Trophies (UPDATED)

NFL player James Harrison does not believe in participation trophies. Even if they’re for his own kids.

James Harrison and coach Keith Butler can be s...

James Harrison and coach Keith Butler can be see in the background. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Via ProFootballTalk:

Anyone who’s ever watched Steelers linebacker James Harrison play football knows that he’s an intense competitor who wants to win at all costs. So perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that Harrison is passing along that intense competitiveness to his sons.

That’s a good, but imperfect, description of what Harrison did. Here’s the post from Harrison’s Instagram:

In general I agree with the notion that we have gone too far in the direction of “attaboy” awards for children and for adults. So while at first I might be inclined to join the chorus of “yay! Go James Harrison!”, in this specific case I think returning the trophies puts Harrison’s kids in an uncomfortable situation socially. Granted, their father is a professional football player, and a well-known one at that. (He’s not Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, but most NFL fans know who James Harrison is.) That makes it easier. And I would never presume to tell someone that they should go against their personal family values, even if that person isn’t someone who can throw me across a room with his pinkie. (That doesn’t mean I think people can beat their kids, or do other harm to their children in the name their individual “family values”.)

However. In this specific case, everyone gets a trophy. I admit those trophies look a lot bigger than the crappy ones that we got “just for playing” when I was young. But youth sports often have a participation trophy, or certificate of completion, or something along those lines. This analogy isn’t perfect, but if a player is injured, he still gets paid, right? The backup quarterback of a Super Bowl winning team still gets a ring, even if he never played a single down. (I know the analogy isn’t perfect. If you have a better one, let me know and I’ll post it.)

Maybe you’re a good player on a crappy team. In my case, I was a crappy player on a great team, at least my first year in youth baseball. The team was so good we won the championship. I didn’t do much to contribute, but I got a HUGE trophy. Should I have given it back because I didn’t do enough to earn it?

This is in no way a commentary on James Harrison’s parenting skills. (And not only because he could hurt me if he wanted to.) I don’t know what kind of father Mr. Harrison is, and I’m glad to see that he is, at minimum, an involved one. But while I agree that “sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better” I’m not sure it follows that participation trophies are given out because kids “cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut u [sic] up and keep you happy.” That certainly wasn’t the case when I played, nor was it the case when my own children played.

The truth is, part of life IS about showing up. Maybe the answer lies somewhere in between. Kids who never missed a game or a practice without a legitimate medical reason get a trophy, while kids who only bothered to show up every other game get bupkis. That won’t happen, but it would be a happy medium.

UPDATE: Albert Burneko wrote a piece on this topic for Deadspin that is less restrained than mine. (H/T Whit Honea.)

Source: James Harrison won’t let his sons accept participation trophies (ProFootballTalk)

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