© 2023 WYPR
WYPR 88.1 FM Baltimore WYPF 88.1 FM Frederick WYPO 106.9 FM Ocean City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The Giant Foam Finger: Is Winning Everything?

Oh, sure, they got a trophy. But did they <em>earn</em> it?
Oh, sure, they got a trophy. But did they earn it?

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.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)