Yes, Participation Trophies Are Stupid, But James Harrison Is A Shitty Parent


Let's just get this out of the way.

Pittsburgh Steeler linebacker James Harrison was recently in the news for an Instagram post where he took a picture of trophies his sons were awarded for participating in a sports league, and wrote that he was giving them back. His rationale? Trophies need to be earned, not given, and allowing them to keep something like that cultivates a mindset of entitlement.


I do not know James Harrison personally. I am a Pittsburgher — and a huge Steeler fan — so I know of him. (More on this in a bit.) But I don't know him. Never even seen him in person before. So, how can I possibly say he's a shitty parent without actually witnessing any James Harrison parenting in person?

Easy. Same way you can watch someone being an ass for no reason to a server or bartender or bus driver — or anyone they assume is "beneath" them — and assume they're likely just a shitty person. Or how you can witness a colleague pocket a pack of gum from the building gift shop when the shop worker had his head turned and immediately know she's not to be trusted. Or how you can eavesdrop on 10 seconds of one conversation between a couple and know they're in an abusive relationship. Sometimes you need more context to make certain determinations. And sometimes you don't. Sometimes one act is enough.

In Harrison's case, the issue isn't whether participation trophies are a joke. Because they are. (More on this in a bit, too.) But there are dozens of different ways of instilling the value of hard work and competition in your children. None of them involve going on Instagram and sharing with your 184,000 followers how you forced your pre-teen sons to give back their trophies. This isn't parenting. It's pandering to the hottakers who believe entitled six-year-old are a scourge ruining the country. "Make those kids earn everything they get! Nothing comes free!" they comment on Harrison's page. While at work. And presumably earning a pay check while working. But spending time at work to browse the internet and leave comments on Instagram pages and ESPN comment threads. Effectively getting paid for working while not actually working.

Also, you know that guy at the gym who lifts weights like he eats nothing but protein bars and junkyard cement? The guy who makes you think he's either fresh out of prison or preparing to invade fucking Saturn by himself? The guy who looks how Beanie Siegel sounds? James Harrison is that guy.

james guns

No, seriously. Look for yourself.


Now imagine if this guy was your dad. And your house smells like Creatine and Muscle Milk-flavored jelly beans. There's already a 00.000000% chance his kids are not aware he does not want them to be "soft." That he'd grind them into crystals and snort them off a pull-up bar if there was any inkling of "softness." And there's already a 00.000000% chance his kids aren't already aware he's the real life Deebo. But then he goes on the internet and pulls some more Deebo shit? And yes, that's what happened. He Deeboed his kids out of some admittedly shitty trophies so an audience of sociopathic Yinzers and hypocritical Cheetos salesmen could fill his page with praise bukkake.


So yeah, fuck that guy. (But go Steelers!)

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)


Damon Young

Couple things:

1. This has been said a few times in the comments, but bears repeating. Kids are not stupid. They might not be as educated as adults, but they are not dummies. A kid getting a 118th place trophy knows that it's an 118th place trophy. I doubt he's going to be bragging about it at school or showing it off to his friends when they come over. All a parent has to say is "I'm proud of you for competing. But if you want to get better and get a first or second place trophy next year, this is what you have to do."

Also, we're getting all aggy about these little kids getting trophies, but, um, I don't see anyone volunteering the diploma you received although you aint do sh*t your senior year in high school but go to lunch five periods a day. Or the medal you received from the half marathon you completed last year. Sure, you finished in 32632674th place, but you finished, so you got a medal and a t-shirt and a bumper sticker. Or the salary or hourly wage you're receiving from your job even though you're at work right now but reading and commenting on VSB instead.

Again, I agree that participation trophies are stupid. But a six-year-old receiving a trophy is waaaaaaaaaaaay down the list on the entitlement totem pole.

2. Also, remember these kids didn't actually do anything wrong. This isn't even a case of some kid acting up in school, and the parent putting the punishment on Facebook. Which is still f*cked up, but somewhat understandable. This is a parent using his children as pawns to make a point about entitlement culture and receive thousands of co-signs. Basically, he's being a bully.

Also, this is a guy who was arrested for beating up the mother of these children a few years ago. Now, I acknowledge that people can grow and change from that type of stuff, but when you have a history of and reputation for being a bully, I'm less likely to give your bully-ish parenting tactics the benefit of the doubt.

Edit: Just saw this on Facebook:

"This is the guy who didn't want to go to the white house after winning the superbowl, saying "If you want to see the Pittsburgh Steelers, invite us when we don't win the Super Bowl. So as far as I'm concerned he would have invited Arizona if they had won."

So like, invite us if we participated? What the f*ck Debo?"