Over the last few days, social media has drawn my attention to a topic that gets people heated: participation trophies for children. A few people have come out swinging, furious about the idea that a child should get a plaque or ribbon or medal or trophy for anything other than winning.
Steeler James Harrison reignited this conversation by putting a photo of some trophies on Instagram, telling the world he was going to throw them away, and hashtagging #harrisonfamilyvalues. He wants them to EARN their trophies, as he says.
Okay. I’ll agree with Drew Margary and quite a few others with, as Margary says:
Now, here is my SUPER CONTROVERSIAL take on participant trophies: They’re fine. They are pointless and stupid, but actively harmless. A trophy is the party favor you get for paying a couple hundred bucks to join a league. It’s a souvenir. A memento.
I’ll also note, as I did during my Interstellar recap, that I don’t have children. But I think that there is a solution here that I would like to see: James Harrison needs to take this a step farther and define success. He needs to define what it means to “EARN a real trophy.” What is to earn? What is a real trophy? What is winning? What is success?
My suggestion is that Harrison redraft his contract and, from here on out, he ONLY gets paid for the minutes he plays and ONLY if they occur during games he wins. He’s 37 years old and may or may not be starting this year. Is that success?
I understand the argument he is making. And I don’t think it needs to be as controversial as it is. There is also nothing new about this argument. The Atlantic did a good write-up on “The Cult of Self-Esteem” in 2011, and have covered it repeatedly since. And it seems to me that people who expect a trophy for showing up to a game will also expect an A just for showing up to class.
But sometimes, an incentive is needed to even show up. And that’s what I wonder about those trophies that Harrison threw away. I would imagine that the kids who did win got nicer trophies.
As Woody Allen sort of said, “showing up is eighty percent of life.” The question seems to be whether or not that first eight percent deserves recognition. We know what James Harrison thinks. Now, I’d like to see him take this argument to its logical extreme and draft up a new contract for himself.
I’ll close by saying that it’s bizarre this is as much of a conversation as it is. It’s strange that people even have such strong opinions on such a topic and it’s strange that the “news” is covering Instagram photos and that people are picking fights about this. And it’s strange that I’m weighing in.
Anyway, I hope the internet gives me a trophy for showing up and sharing my opinion on this subject.