Steelers' Harrison deserves trophy for returning participation awards


James Harrison should get a trophy.

When the Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker recently returned the ones his sons were given for merely participating in athletics, the five-time Pro Bowler and two-time Super Bowl winner picked up a whole bunch of new fans, including me.

Woody Allen said 80 percent of life is showing up. But just getting to the games doesn't mean you're entitled to a trophy, plaque, metal, ribbon, or any other type of award.

It's obvious not everyone agrees with this, especially when it comes to youth sports. It's common practice in kids leagues to give every little boy and little girl a trophy, regardless of how well their team did or how well the individual player performed.

Now, I like the AYSO philosophy of "Everyone plays." In youth recreational sports, everyone should get a fair chance to learn the game and participate.

But only members of championship teams and a few individuals on each team (Most Valuable Player, Most Improved, Most Inspirational) should get trophies.

Everybody else? Big hugs and pats on the back. And — most importantly — shave ice. From the ages of 5 to 10, that's what they really want anyway.

You're not going to scar them for life by not giving them a prize after a season of hitting the tee more than the ball.

It might even work the other way, and it goes beyond sports. In 2012, Michael Sigmen of the Huffington Post addressed enabling of mediocrity in the classroom. "Grade inflation promotes ego inflation, the opposite of healthy self-confidence," he wrote.

Later in life, when they don't get a trinket or some other form of immediate gratification for mediocrity or worse then what?

This doesn't mean effort shouldn't be acknowledged. Kids should be encouraged to hang in there and keep trying. It's not "tough love" or overemphasizing outcome. It's about honesty, learning and preparation for reality.

And isn't the playing of the game itself supposed to be where the fun is, not chasing awards?

There's a practical side to this, too. And many, many parents will be happy if coaches and team mothers pay attention to Harrison's message.

I didn't know how much trophies cost, so I asked Terri Hironaka, who had three sons go through many years of youth baseball.

"At least $15, depending on the teams," she said. "But it moved well beyond trophies to embroidered towels, jackets, seat covers, etc. It got super expensive. It probably bothered more moms than just me, but no one wanted to speak up."

Then there's the insanity of the "snacks" rotation. Some parents spend $200 when it's their turn, Hironaka said. Snacks shaming results if you don't keep up.

In 1972, our coach bought us 10-cent Cokes from the concession stand after games. That was it and they tasted great, win or lose. In five years of mostly bad organized baseball playing as a kid I got one trophy; that year, when I was 11. Still have it. The words are all rubbed off, but I remember one of them was "champions." It's the only way I could've gotten one.