NFL Player Says Sons Didn't 'Earn' Participation Trophies, Returns Them

by Maria Guido
Originally Published: 

Steelers linebacker James Harrison posted a photo of his son’s trophies on Instagram this week. No, he wasn’t boasting about their innate abilities, he was bluntly declaring they didn’t earn them. They’re participation trophies, and Harrison clearly doesn’t believe in them:

It’s debatable whether participation equals “nothing,” but the trend of rewarding our children for simply showing up may not always be for the best. Isn’t everyone getting a trophy the same as no one getting a trophy? It seems like the only winner in the “everyone gets a trophy trend” are the companies who sell trophies. But it’s also important to take the age of Harrison’s children into consideration: they are 6-years-old and 8-years-old. How do we feel about his words now?

“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,” says Harrison. I don’t know — I think a 6-year-old doing his best deserves a trophy. I guess that makes me a soft parent. At that age, aren’t we just trying to get our children engaged in the sport? Don’t we just want them to sow an interest they want to cultivate and have some fun? Giving back a 6-year-old’s trophy seems pretty over-the-top. Ditto that of an 8-year-old.

Not everyone wins; that’s okay. It’s one of the lessons kids learn in sports. Showing up, working hard, and improving your athletic ability is one of the biggest pay-offs of sports participation. Not everyone is born with natural talent; excelling in a sport takes a lot of hard work. But for young children, that work should also be fun — and that’s where Harrison loses me. His sons are too young for this kind of pressure. Harrison is getting accolades all over the internet for his decision to give back his kids’ trophies, but pushing kids so hard that young isn’t something that deserves a trophy, either.

Let them have some fun. The trophy could simply some day serve as a piece of memorabilia from the birth of their interest in the sport.

Relax, dad.

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