NFL Star Tackles Entitlement Culture, Returns His Kids’ Participation Trophies

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Wed, Aug 19 - 4:23 pm EDT | 3 years ago by
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Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison said in a post on Instagram that he gave back “participation trophies” that had been awarded to his two sons, writing that the trophies would be returned until they earned a “real trophy.”

A photo posted by James Harrison (@jhharrison92) on


“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,” Harrison wrote on his Instagram page. “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”

Harrison is right, and regardless of whether you like him or not, his message is worth taking note of.

We’re teaching children that doing THEIR best is just as good as doing THE best, and that they should receive the same prize as the person who did the best merely because they showed up. They are being sold a very deliberate lie about the world, and will face an immense, spectacular, drastic let-down once they walk into the rest of their lives and realize that simply trying is seldom good enough.

“The whole idea is to protect that kid and, ultimately, it’s a huge disservice. What kids need is skill-building. Help them do what they’re doing and do it better,” Ashley Merryman, co-author of Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing, said in an interview with USA Today. “The benefit of competition isn’t actually winning. The benefit is improving. “When you’re constantly giving a kid a trophy for everything they’re doing, you’re saying, ‘I don’t care about improvement. I don’t care that you’re learning from your mistakes. All we expect is that you’re always a winner.’”

We’ve raised an entire generation of people who think they deserve a trophy just for showing up, and the result is a generation that thinks they should receive $15 an hour for cooking french fries. The real world doesn’t care about someone’s self esteem. The real world is hard, and you have to work hard to be successful in it. In the real world, performance and results matter more than simply showing up. You will not be paid the same amount as your co-workers just for doing the same job. In order to be paid what you believe you are worth, you should first make sure you’re doing work worthy of the pay you want. It’s kind of exactly that simple.

“I like kids. I want them to be happy and do well,” said Merryman. “But I’d much rather have a 6-year-old cry because he didn’t get a medal than have a 26-year-old lose it because they realized they weren’t as special as they thought they were.”

The topic of participation awards was launched on, with 75% of participants saying that children should NOT receive participation trophies.

“Kids need to learn how to celebrate OTHER people’s successes. They should be proud that the other team/person won the trophy because that is what being a good player is about,” one person responded. “How would you feel if you got 1st place at a tournament that you worked extremely hard for and practiced a lot for, and you received the exact same trophy as the kid that has never played before and has no idea what he is doing? It would take away the motivation to practice and would not be fair to those that work hard for the trophy,” added another.

“We are all different with different skills and abilities, we are not all good at everything. Giving children attainment trophies is inane and patronising and instilling in them an undeserved sense of entitlement,” one user wrote. “Children cannot be wrapped in cotton wool for every one of life’s disappointments. A child’s emotional and psychological development depends on their ability to cope with all life’s events, good and bad.”

Most in favor of participation awards and trophies cited self-esteem building, and rewarding effort instead of results. Most against them cited fairness, motivation, and teaching children how to deal with disappointment.

It is damaging to teach children that their self esteem is tied to what they receive instead of what they are able to accomplish. It is lazy to teach children that they should receive the same award as the person who does the best simply because they showed up. And it is dangerous not to teach children how to cope with small disappointments when they are young, as they will grow up unable to cope with challenges when they are in the real world where there are no “you tried” awards. Participating in life does not guarantee success – hard work, motivation, and pushing yourself to learn more and be better does. It is more important to teach children to work hard and earn what they receive than to teach them how to hold their hands out and expect a prize for putting on pants and leaving the house.

Harrison is teaching his children not to feel entitled. Pushing them to earn their rewards. We could all take a page out of that book.

Liz Finnegan is a soulless ginger with no political leanings. Pun enthusiast. Self-proclaimed “World’s Okayest Person.” Retro gaming contributor for The Escapist.

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