On Sunday, James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers took to Instagram to deride the nationwide scourge of participation trophies, put here on earth to litter the lives of loser kids who don’t try hard enough. He hates them so much, he said, that he’s making his kids give their own participation trophies back.

Harrison’s kids are age six and eight; his Instagram post came with the following caption:

I came home to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies! While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy. I’m sorry I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best...cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better...not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut u up and keep you happy. #harrisonfamilyvalues

While many people agreed with Harrison’s statements about entitlement, quite a few others suggested that participation trophies might be encouraging to those kids who like sports but don’t have a natural propensity for it to keep trying. And what could be the harm in that? Especially if you explained to your kids that hey, a participation trophy is great, but it’s not like a Heismann or anything, and doesn’t negate the obligation to try at what you do. Instead of returning the trophies (also, why return? Just throw them out, man), the whole thing could have turned into a lesson about the nature of competition. Instead, it just seems like two kids under 10 are just going to be like, “Dad. I didn’t care about that trophy anyway.”

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Not to be outdone by Harrison, however, Jim Vance, a veteran news anchor out of Washington D.C. took to the airwaves to further demonize participation trophies, labelling them not just as useless, but actual child abuse.

From USA Today High School Sports:

“It’s child abuse to give a kid a trophy that he has not earned,” he said. “If a parent’s responsibility is to teach a kid how to deal with the real world, then that is child abuse. Because that’s not the real world.”

Vance said the ages of the boys didn’t matter, because “you begin teaching your children from the moment they come on this Earth.”

It’s also a parent’s job to teach their kids compassion, and good priorities, and how to express yourself reasonably. I personally don’t think keeping or returning the trophies is going to get CPS knocking on anyone’s door, but to equate child abuse to trophies in any form is pretty stupid.

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Here’s a secret that neither Vance nor Harrison seem to know: kids don’t really give a shit about trophies as much as they give a shit about their parents’ reactions. And, though Harrison and Vance might sneer at the thought of freely given self-esteem points, there’s no doubt that the generosity with which kids are treated sets some sort of precedent for how they treat others.

And one more thing: Kids know. Kids know when the trophies they receive are for winning and when they’re just BS things we give them so everyone is happy. Kids aren’t going to put their participation trophies in a place of honor on the mantle, or demand a pizza party with Ninja Turtles on VHS after they’re done dusting them. They know when other people are better at sports than them. Kids are often smart and observant and sensitive to failure. There’s no reason to compound that by making them feel even more shitty about not being good enough. Just don’t make a big deal about the trophy and everyone’s going to be fine.


Contact the author at mark.shrayber@jezebel.com.

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