It started with this Instagram post, and turned into a national conversation on our obsession over self-esteem. James Harrison certainly has earned his share of trophies and accolades … but that’s Harrison’s issue with the trophies his sons received just for showing up. Harrison, who fought to find a place on an NFL roster before beginning his future Hall of Fame career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Harrison, who came back to the Steelers after a season in Cincinnati and a brief retirement to resume his dominating presence, wants his sons to understand that trying is not the same as succeeding, and that success doesn’t come easy:
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
Ironically, the program was run by Charlie Batch, his former Steelers teammate, according to ESPN’s First Take. “That’s not the real world,” Stephen Smith says, pointing out that entitlement mentalities form around these kinds of gestures. “It de-incentivizes them to pursue excellence.” Skip Bayless disagrees in part, thinking that recognition of effort is important, but that it does dilute the impact of excellence and that “they don’t matter.” At that point, it transitions into a discussion of race and culture, for what it’s worth.
In Las Vegas, there was less sympathy for Harrison’s point of view. One commentator on this show says he still has all of the participation awards he received as a kid:
And here in the center of Minnesota Nice, CBS’ morning show panel also argued mainly against Harrison’s position, at least for 6-year-olds and below. However, they also acknowledged that there isn’t a whole lot of the participation-trophy syndrome in this state, thanks to a healthy impulse of competition — even while smiling at each other:
For me, I think Harrison’s point is well taken. Children should want to participate because they enjoy the activity, not because they’ll get a meaningless trophy at the end. Harrison and Smith are right in that awarding trophies for showing up makes them much less meaningful when earned. We spend too much time inflating an empty sense of self-esteem in children rather than helping them to achieve in a way that legitimately lifts self-esteem, and what we get in the end are people who think the world will be handed to them simply because they showed up. That’s not what happened to Harrison, and he wants to make sure his sons are prepared for that. Good for him.