James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers noted on social media that he was taking his sons’ “participation” trophies back where they came from because, he says, “everything in life should be earned.” (Photo: George Gojkovich/Getty Images Sports)
NFL player James Harrison is trying to teach his two boys, ages 6 and 8, a lesson about grit and competition — by making them return their “participation” trophies until they can earn “real” ones.
“I came home to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies!” wrote the Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker on Sunday in an Instagram post to his 180,000 followers. “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.”
Story: Super Dads of the NFL
His comments, posted along with a photo of the “Best of the Batch” student-athlete trophies, have already been liked more than 13,000 times and have elicited 2,200 comments. Many agree with Harrison wholeheartedly.
The offending participation trophies, in a photo posted online by NFL player James Harrison. (Photo: Instagram)
“TOTAL SUPPORT!!! You’re being a GREAT DAD! We need more of this,” wrote one of those on the athlete’s side, while another posted, “Exactly man. This is spot on!” Yet another follower noted, “Amen. Well-said Sir. More parents need to be like you. Our son is older now and in college, we did the same and were criticized daily for it but in the end our son graduated with honors and received two scholarships for college where he is doing fantastic and has a GPA 3.4 he is working hard and is earning his achievements. We are very proud of him.”
Still others took umbrage at his sentiments. “So what if the YMCA wants to give your kid a piece of tin? It’s not going to make them a softer person,” wrote one such commenter. “Maybe there is an argument about how kids today are spoiled by today’s technology and don’t work as hard as our parents did, but it’s not because of a participation trophy.”
Another dissenter asked if an NFL player on a winning Super Bowl team should return his victory ring if he didn’t actually play in the game. “If not, then you should reconsider returning their participation Trophy,” he wrote. “They are no less deserving of their participation trophy than a player on a Super Bowl winning team that put forth their best efforts whether they got to play in the game or not.”
Harrison and his sons on a recent trip to the Grand Canyon. (Photo: Instagram/James Harrison)
Controversy around the idea of kids receiving trophies simply for participating in athletics or other activities has been roiling among parents for a while. Last year, a poll conducted by Reason magazine found opinions on participation trophies were split — with a majority of Americans, 57 percent, saying only the winners should get trophies. When results were broken down by age, however, it became clear that younger Americans (those between 18 and 24) believed all kids should be rewarded, inspiring a Washington Post article to dub that age group the “participation-trophy generation.”
A recent episode of HBO’s Real Sports series, meanwhile, focused on the issue, with experts weighing in about how the practice could have a negative impact on kids by setting a low bar, fostering entitlement, and not building resilience. Ashley Merryman, co-author of Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing, told HBO that it also took away a kid’s competitive spirit. And in a 2013 New York Times opinion piece on the topic, she offered advice to parents looking to sign up their kids for extracurricular activities: “Whether your kid loves Little League or gymnastics, ask the program organizers this: ‘Which kids get awards?’ If the answer is, ‘Everybody gets a trophy,’ find another program.”
Why? Because, Merryman wrote: “The science is clear. Awards can be powerful motivators, but nonstop recognition does not inspire children to succeed. Instead, it can cause them to underachieve.” (Also worth noting, she wrote, is that the business of making and selling those trophies is an estimated $3 billion annual industry in the U.S. and Canada.)
Harrison working out with his kids. (Photo: Instagram/James Harrison)
But some experts see it differently. “I disagree with James Harrison. His sons did do something for that trophy — they participated,” Laura Markham, a clinical child psychologist and parenting expert, tells Yahoo Parenting. “Would a certificate have been enough? Yes, of course. But there is nothing wrong with looking at 10 years of trophies on your bookcase and saying, ‘I worked hard at my sport over this 10 years. I wasn’t the one who scored the most points for my team, but I was a team player and I did my very best. I kept playing and I kept growing.’” Further, she believes that children are not made entitled by the practice, and that these trophies-for-all tend to foster determination, character, resilience, and a positive attitude.
“Where is our emotional generosity? Not every child can win every time, by definition,” Markham says. “But every child needs to learn to get back up and try again and to play by the rules and to take pride in whatever contribution he makes. Acknowledgment helps teach those lessons.”