Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Participatory sorts

James Harrison is absolutely right. Al Davis never said "Just be there, baby."

On the other hand ...

On the other hand, Woody Allen is right, too. Eighty percent of success really is just showing up.

And so we come to the crucial intersection of a debate that's been slinking around the ethersphere the last few days, a debate that in fact has been simmering for a long time. One side of it is the old school crowd, which believes achievement isn't achievement unless it's, well, achieved. On the other is the orange-slices-for-everyone faction, which believes if you keep score your kids will be forever traumatized by losing 10-3 to the Ladybugs in tee ball.

Harrison, the Pittsburgh Steelers occasionally psychotic linebacker, flamed up this debate with his Instagram post the other day, in which he said he was giving back his 8- and 6-year-old sons' "participation" trophies because they hadn't earned them. In theory, he's absolutely right. No one should be rewarded simply for showing up, because it instills a sense of entitlement that will in the long run be ruinous when a child grows up to discover that, after they show up for work, they actually have to do something.

But this was a lousy piece of parenting, and let me tell you know why.

One, the kids are 6 and 8. At 6 and 8, the nuances of Daddy's argument are going to be lost. All you know is he's taking something away from you for no apparent reason. He could have gotten his message across better without that bit of grandstanding.

Me, I wouldn't have heard a word he said. I would have just been pissed off.

Two, when Harrison says he's 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," he's wandering dangerously close to Baseball/Hockey/Soccer Dad From Hell country. Generations of kids (including my generation) have been raised to believe that you should always give 100 percent, because giving 100 percent is something of value in and of itself. So, yes, trying your best should entitle you to something.

Praise. An extra orange slice. Something.

Because the alternative is to suggest that effort means nothing if you don't win. That you do have something be ashamed of if you don't win. And that's going to produce kids who grow up to be every bit as screwed up as the here's-a-trophy-just-for-being-you kids.

In fairness, I don't think that's what Harrison meant. But it certainly can be construed that way. And judging from some of the online responses to his post, more than a few people did construe it that way. And approved.

God help their kids.

In the end, as with anything, it's all about balance. You don't want your kids to expect something for nothing, but you also need to let them know there's more of value to athletic competition than just winning. That if you lose but are, as the motto goes, brave in the attempt, that in itself is an achievement worth recognizing.

This whole thing, weirdly, reminds me of a scene from "Talladega Nights." One night, outside an Applebee's, Ricky Bobby confronts his no-account dad about instilling Ricky Bobby's life philosophy, "If you're not first, you're last."

"Hell, Ricky," Dad responds. "I was high when I said that. That doesn't make any sense at all."



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