On participation trophies, fair play and taking parenting advice from James Harrison

     Harrison's Instagram post from Saturday.

    Harrison's Instagram post from Saturday.

    The Pittsburgh Steelers’ James Harrison won praise from Outrage Nation warriors battling American “wussification” when he lectured parents about “participation trophies” on Instagram. A man who can’t play within the rules of his trade positioning himself as a Mt. Rushmoreian parent will never sit well with me.

    James Harrison is a 37-year-old professional football player who has won two Super Bowl rings with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    Harrison’s teammates and friends call him “Deebo” in honor of the character from the movie “Friday” who, when not breaking into people’s homes, knocks out a markedly smaller fellow (link NSFW) named Red who had the gall to ask for his beach-cruiser bicycle back.

    What’s the oversized-bully connection here?

    Well, in 2008, Harrison evaded charges stemming from an alleged domestic altercation with his girlfriend by taking court-ordered anger-management counselling.

    That came a year before bites from his family’s pit bull left his toddler son hospitalized.

    All the while, Harrison’s questionably immoral style of play — i.e. helmet-to-helmet shots rife with the threat of brain injury — has drawn numerous fines and a suspension during a long, storied career.

    That back story sets the stage for a sports and/or parenting story that arose over the weekend which left some positioning Harrison as the paragon of great old-school fatherhood.

    Harrison family values …

    You see, Harrison posted a 124-word lecture via his Instagram account (hashtag: #harrisonfamilyvalues) on Saturday regarding his 6- and 8-year-old sons:

    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.

    And what was Deebo Harrison’s end game?

    Those trophies are going back to the Next Level Athletics outfit that mistakenly thought a “Student Athlete Award” might be a source of pride for a first- and third-grader.

    It also earned him plaudits from Outrage Nation warriors battling the “wussification” of America at every turn, meshing chronologically with the “affront” of Target going with gender-neutral toy sections.

    Heck, even our former mayor and governor, Iggles fan/commentator Ed Rendell, authored a book titled “A Nation of Wusses.”

    These are the things I mulled as I thought back to a pair of participation-trophy ceremonies I witnessed while coaching 3- and 4-year-old players in East Falls during recent years.

    … Not my family values

    I, too, have long-standing issues with participation trophies to the point that I thought last summer’s Broad Street parade for the Taney Dragons excessively glorified near-success.

    Letting children explore the world around them has given way to bubblewrapping them for safety from dodgeballs and facing the small-scale failures during youthful years that ultimately strengthen us.

    Case in point: Missing a penalty kick versus the Audubon Green Wave in junior varsity soccer has haunted me since 1988. But I’m glad I shot wide left of the net that afternoon because that never happened on the varsity squad, and it instilled a notion of focusing on details that’s never gone away.

    All of which brings us back to Deebo Harrison, the Greatest Parent in All of the World.

    So, what irked me so much about his participation-trophy diatribe?

    For one thing, the short-term memories of folks who will overlook an unsavory past because a somewhat-famous someone vouched for their world view on Instagram.

    For another thing, that world view mocked the smiles on the faces of 3- and 4-year-olds who were handed plaques that read “East Falls Soccer.”

    To be sure, I cringed a little when my son Louden received one two years ago. But to his new teammates and friends, this moment wasn’t about a need to “cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut u up and keep you happy,” as Harrison wrote. What they felt was belonging.

    That simple non-congratulatory plaque served as membership in a youth league where scores of late-practice scrimmages mattered substantially less than learning the basics of an activity they might carry into their elementary-, middle- and high-school years.

    I’m talking about pre-kindergarten children, many unable to even read the plaque itself.

    A football player who lost tens of thousands of family-supporting dollars because he can’t play within the rules of his trade highly and mightily positioning himself as a Mt. Rushmoreian parent will never sit well with me.

    I don’t tell others how to parent. Parenthood is a tricky gig, one that differs from home to home, child to child. Tough love might work for an NFL-linebacker dad, and not for my family or yours. Forbidding a child to play football because of head-trauma fears might work for some families, and not for an overly aggressive NFL linebacker’s.

    Encouraging hard work

    If you agree with Harrison’s world view, good for you. However, “I’m sorry I’m not sorry” that I didn’t make Louden return his participation plaques. Tough-guy stances don’t work, or even register, in formative years.

    Did they impact him in a fashion that says he’ll be rewarded for just trying in life, as Deebo Harrison maintains? Nah. We were out on the field practicing on a 92-degree Sunday anyhow.

    There was no crying.

    There was no whining.

    There was just a dad happy to support his son’s interest in playing sports in his early years.

    There was a 5-year-old kid who says he’ll be better than Lionel Messi someday and who overcame the participation-trophy odds to understand that hard work is the path to achievement.

    And he did this all without his daddy having to lecture the world about parenting techniques, until someone with questionable notions of fairplay decided to do so first.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.