James Harrison, participation trophies, & how adults have ruined youth sports


Every Monday morning, Section 215’s Akiem Bailum gives an in-depth and unfiltered look at all of the latest sports news in The Monday Morning Realist. You can follow Akiem on Twitter @AkiemBailum.

Aug 23, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison (92) breaks off of the line of scrimmage against the Green Bay Packers during the second quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Realists, it sounds like the Pittsburgh Steelers’ James Harrison is another one of THOSE people.

You know—THOSE people. Those people with children who participate in youth sports and sometimes forget the whole reason youth sports even exist.

Harrison wrote an Instagram post earlier insisting his outrage of his two sons receiving “participation trophies.” He wasn’t ticked at the youth league for giving out the awards, but at the fact his kids received them in the first place.

"“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.”"

As someone in their 20’s with no children and no plans on having kids anytime soon, I’m at no liberties to tell Harrison how he should raise his children. As long as he’s not the Adrian Peterson type who beats their kids (allegedly), he can do what he does.

Oh wait—he was once charged with domestic abuse in 2008 before the charges were dropped? Well that’s a big red mark on his reputation as a human being.

If he believes that will encourage his children to strive harder not only on the field but in life, then he’s teaching them a valuable lesson to not settle for anything less than being the best.
But, as I just mentioned a bit earlier—Harrison appears to be one of those people that do not get it when it comes to youth sports—and apparently a lot of children do not either.

I played youth baseball when I was in elementary school in Summerville, South Carolina. I was there for two years. Our team won a regional championship the first year and came within one strike of repeating the following season.

While we may have had to settle for the runner-up spot that second year, I look back on those times and don’t think of my short career as a disappointment.

As a grown adult now, I look on what the real virtues of playing youth sports were—camaraderie, friendship, teamwork, character building, giving children (especially those who are either at risk or in the inner city) an extracurricular activity outside of school.

None of us outside the Harrison household know how he truly is as a parent (even though there is the matter of that domestic violence charge in ’08 before it was dropped). But his Instagram post suggests, again, that he doesn’t get it.

Harrison is treating the concept of a participation trophy as if it’s nothing more than a handout for trying. Those trophies don’t come the further you go in sports, so if anything, the concept of being celebrated with a trophy, award, or plaque should be enough to encourage young athletes to go further and strive harder to pursue their dreams.

But what Harrison is doing is festering a culture where you are nothing if you don’t win—even at the youth level where it’s not about any type of money and shouldn’t be about what the scoreboard reads.

Out-of-control parents like Harrison are ruining youth sports. How many stories have we heard of psycho parents outraged that an umpire or a referee made a bad call or hurt “their baby” and then made their presence known either after or DURING a game by going into expletive-laced tirades because of said call or occasion where “their baby” was involved?

Why some of these parents do it—who knows? A lot of them only do it for attention. A lot of them do it because they feel they’re sticking up for their kids in the heat of a game without recognizing that these teams have people called COACHES for a reason.

Luckily when I played youth baseball in the Palmetto State, I didn’t have those parents because if I did—I wouldn’t want to show my face in front of my teammates because I’d be embarrassed to think I’m the dude with the crazy parents who don’t know when to calm down and realize it’s just a game.

The culture of youth sports in America is getting out of control because we treat these kids like adults the moment they step on the field for their first youth game. It’s why a high schools in Texas are spending millions of dollars on football stadia instead of – you know – paying teachers in the Lone Star State a living wage.

From lunatic fringe ‘rents, to adults not knowing their place, to very well-off adults cutting budgets for youth sports (note—there’s no textbook for youth sports, hint, hint) in favor of failing class structures that don’t encourage hands-on learning and only teach to said book and to the test.

We can officially add James Harrison to that list of lunatic fringe parents who seemingly don’t know the real value of youth sports that have nothing to do with participation trophies.

It’s about character building—something Harrison’s NFL career suggests he still has a lot of to do as an adult.

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