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The weekend before last, a pro athlete by the name of James Harrison announced on Instagram that he'd returned the participation trophies his kids had received for playing youth sports, writing, "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." This has, in turn, spawned a flurry of defenses and condemnations, including Albert Burneko's strongly worded article in Deadspin, with its two-word headline: "F*** Winning."
Here at The Giant Foam Finger, the sports-themed offshoot of Pop Culture Happy Hour I host with Code Switch blogger Gene Demby, we were fascinated by the dustup and felt we had the bona fides to weigh in. After all, as I note in the conversation, I spent six years as a player-coach for Team Onion Softball; there, I managed to amass a career 21-42 record, so I know a little something about not winning trophies. Gene, meanwhile, won lots of participation awards in youth soccer, and still frequently receives medals and tchotchkes for running long distances competitively.
So, we ask: Is winning everything? Harrison's kids are 6 and 8; is that maybe too young to instill a win-at-all-costs mentality? In sports, we so often mythologize scrappy strivers who get cheered when they come off the bench at the end of a blowout — but what is that if not a variation on a "participation trophy"? Where does sportsmanship and encouragement fit into all of this? And, perhaps most importantly of all, is every mindset that applies to professional athletes automatically transferable to people in everyday life, to say nothing of little kids? As you might imagine, we have thoughts.