Only Winners Should Get a Participation Trophy

We live in a "participation trophy" world now, unfortunately. But the real issue isn't the praise children are given without accomplishment. Rather, the bigger problem is what society considers an "accomplishment."
08/26/2015 04:42 pm ET Updated Aug 26, 2016

Last week, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison was applauded throughout the Internet universe for making his two sons return their "participation trophies", which they received at a youth football camp. Americans are getting tired of self-indulgent socialization, in which kids are praised and rewarded for just showing up. Instead, we believe children should only be celebrated when they score a touchdown at youth football camp. And when they win. Because that's a great accomplishment, apparently. Many people don't know that Albert Einstein won his Nobel Prize for hitting .400 in Little League.

It's interesting that Harrison referred to raising his "two boys to be men." In 2008, Harrison was arrested for domestic assault. The charges were later dropped after he completed anger management counseling. I believe that real men don't hit women. I think fathers should raise their boys to be men by teaching them not to hit women. If your son gets an "I Don't Hit Women" trophy, you're doing something right. But he has to earn it. As for awarding kids with sports participation trophies... Eh, who gives a shit?

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.

There's an irony to this story when you think about it. The criticism of participation trophies is that kids are being given artificial praise and made to feel special, like everything is all about them. If the trophies were so worthless, then Harrison should've just thrown them in the trash. Story over. Instead, he is returning them. And he's announcing to the world that he is returning them. In other words, he is making everything all about him. And he feels special. And now he's receiving tons of artificial praise. Well, he still deserves the Father of the Year award... just for participating.

Sure, participation trophies are stupid. But all trophies are stupid. How insecure is the human race that we need a useless, cheap plastic piece of crap on our bookshelf to feel accomplished?

Well, I mean, it's not completely useless. Al Pacino used his trophy to fight off a psychopath in Sea of Love. That movie's not on cable much anymore. Good flick, though.

But assuming you're not using your trophy as a weapon against crazy movie stalkers, what's the point? Maybe we're better off teaching children the simple, intangible joy of reaching a goal. Savor the emotional satisfaction of your achievement. Enjoy the memory of your victory. Normal, rational human beings have the ability to cherish our accomplishments without an ugly piece of hardware with a little gold person at the top to remind us that we did something pretty good. This is what sets us apart from actors.

Actually, I suspect that young people themselves don't care about the worthless trophies and ribbons and certificates thrown at them. Rather, it's all about helicopter parents who feel the need to be a constant presence within their children's extra-curricular activities. I've never seen a kid excited about receiving a participation trophy. Kids get excited about receiving video games and smartphones. Eh, they're not even excited about that. Nothing excites kids anymore. God it's depressing.

But to say that we shouldn't be handing out trophies for participation is more figurative than literal. From the time they're born, children are praised for just showing up. Parents applaud their toddlers for going to the bathroom on the potty. What's so great about making on the potty? When my sons first became toilet trained, I returned the poop.

We live in a "participation trophy" world now, unfortunately. But the real issue isn't the praise children are given without accomplishment. Rather, the bigger problem is what society considers an "accomplishment."

I'm curious as to what James Harrison would consider trophy-worthy. Being the best player on the team? Winning a few games? See, the more serious problem is that kids are being raised to think that all the stupid activities they do are important. And they're not. Unless your nine-year-old is working on a cure for cancer, he or she needs to understand that their dance recital and their soccer game aren't important. I mean, it's important to them, but not to the rest of the world. In the rest of the world, ISIS is chopping people's heads off. You scored a goal? Big f**king deal. Even Mommy and Daddy hate going to your boring activities, but for some reason, somewhere along the line, society decided this was mandatory for being a good parent. Plus, Mommy and Daddy are trying to save our marriage after Daddy was caught kissing his secretary on the mouth.

Mothers and fathers in the stands, unnecessarily cheering on their kids, are sort of like the "participation trophy" of parenting.

Kids shouldn't receive a participation trophy at football camp- but not because they didn't do anything to deserve it. Rather, because football camp, like all youth social activities, is supposed to be parent-free fun. You're not participating for a trophy; you're doing it to have a good time. Outside of school and chores, kids are supposed to have a good time doing unimportant, non-trophy-worthy things. And, outside of school and chores, everything they do is unimportant. And nothing they do deserves a trophy.

If kids have fun getting trophies, then let's give them trophies. But the reason you don't see trophy camps is because it's not something kids care about. Within our absurd "you get a trophy just for participating" society, literally getting a trophy just for participating is probably the one aspect of today's horrible parenting that doesn't make children believe the world is all about them.

As for adults...

If the Pittsburgh Steelers win the Super Bowl this year, they'll win the Lombardi Trophy. But it doesn't matter how well James Harrison plays, or how injured he gets in the process. He doesn't get to keep the trophy. Instead, when a football team wins the Super Bowl, their rich, white, old, out-of-shape owner gets the trophy. And the owner didn't even participate.

And that's the more accurate message we should be sending to our kids. Play hard. Have fun. But know that the game is rigged.