NFL linebacker James Harrison caused a frenzy in the social media universe recently with his instagram post about his children’s participation trophies.
The 2008 NFL defensive player of the year posted to his instagram account Saturday that he would be returning his sons’, ages 6 and 8, "2015 Best of the Batch Next Level Athletics Student-Athlete Awards" trophies.
In his post he stated, “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…”
A line from The Incredibles, one of my favorite movies, perfectly delineates my thoughts on the situation —“When everyone's super, no one will be.”
Harrison’s comments received backlash from coaches, parents and journalist alike. USA Today sports writer Erik Brady wrote an impassioned article calling Harrison’s actions “nonsense.”
Brady wrote, “Participation trophies were not thought up by kids and they probably mean more to the self esteem of parents and grandparents than to their progeny in the pint-size cleats. Is any of this really worth another chapter in the tough-love approach to life?”
The answer to Brady’s question is yes—yes it is.
The thing about life is, it’s always cruel and it doesn’t care about fairness. Life will continue to try and knock you down, but unfortunately not everyone is prepared to get back up. Life will hit some harder than others, but you better believe someday it will come swinging.
Take the Jackie Robinson West Little League team for example. Last year the rambunctious squad made headlines by becoming the first all-black team to win the Little League World Series. It was a shock to find out the team that had pulled at America’s heart strings cheated.
After an investigation, it was revealed the Jackie Robinson West team enlisting players who lived outside the proper boundaries. The squad was stripped of its 2014 title.
Leaders and supporters of the Jackie Robinson West team urged Little League International to reinstate the team’s title. Some even called the decision by LLI as having a “racist agenda.”
The fact of the matter is these kids are learning the wrong lessons from all the wrong people. If you cheat, you get nothing—period. Technicality or not. Yes Jackie Robinson West won, but they did not earn it. This is the same lesson Harrison is trying to pass down to his sons.
The lesson is, you’re not entitled to anything in life.
When I moved to Statesboro from Louisiana I came with two small children, an 11-month old boy and a 4-year-old girl. I work everyday on the lessons life will eventually try and throw at them. Earning everything is important. They don’t go to the toy store, play outside or watch t.v. until it is earned. Awards are a privilege, not a right.
During my news reporter stint in Louisiana I developed a close relationship with an ex-drug dealer who turned his life around and created a youth basketball and football league in New Iberia. After the season was over I offered to buy the organization's trophies for the end-of-the-year ceremony.
As I wrote out the check I asked him, jokingly, “So how many awards are your kids getting?” He had seven kids by the way, almost enough to create his own basketball team. He turned to me, laughed and said, “None man. They didn’t work hard in practice so they’ll be going home empty-handed. These are for the players who earned it.”
That’s the lesson our kids and future kids should learn. If you win something it should be earned, not given. Hard work is nothing to be afraid of.
But then again, who knows? Maybe I’m off-base for supporting a father who pushes his kids to want more in a competitive environment. I mean just look at Tiger Woods, Chipper Jones, Venus and Serena Williams, Reggie and Cheryl Miller, Peyton and Eli Manning, and Ken Griffey Jr.. They all turned out pretty bad, right?