Debate Forum: 10/13

Is ‘good enough’ good enough?

By Timothy Walker

James Harrison is a pro linebacker in the National Football League.

The Kent State graduate has won two Super Bowl rings during his career, has been to the Pro Bowl multiple times, and has played football professionally since being signed as an undrafted rookie by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2002. Earlier this year, however, Harrison made headlines for reasons that had nothing to do with interceptions when he publicly refused to allow his two sons to keep the student athlete “participation trophies” they had received.

Harrison posted a photo of his sons’ two trophies on his Instagram account, along with a message that read, in part, “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…”

Opponents to Harrison’s act screamed loud and long, on social media and elsewhere. From all corners of the country people decried Harrison’s opinion, explaining that “participation trophies” were a positive thing, and igniting debates on CNN, sports talk shows, and parenting blogs. Child advocates took to the airwaves to explain that such trophies were not sending the wrong message, and that all children should be rewarded and made to feel empowered simply for doing their best, whether they win or lose. Whit Honea, former student coach, father of two sons, and the author of  “The Parents’ Phrase Book: Hundreds of Easy, Useful Phrases, Scripts, and Techniques for Every Situation,” wrote, “The idea of a participatory trophy is not to make everyone a winner, but to acknowledge that the child put time and effort forward and to provide a memento of the experience. Having a child return the trophy compounds the idea that only being the best is good enough, when in fact giving one’s best should have that mantle.”

Proponents applauded Harrison’s stance. Kurt Warner, another NFL player, voiced his support for Harrison’s action when he posted, “They don’t let kids pass classes 4 just showing up!” Ashley Merryman, co-author of “Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing,” stated, “The whole idea is to protect that kid and, ultimately, it’s a huge disservice. When you’re constantly giving a kid a trophy for everything they’re doing, you’re saying ‘I don’t care about improvement. I don’t care that you’re learning from your mistakes.’”

The multiple MVP Harrison went undrafted because he was considered undersized for a pro linebacker, but achieved success anyway—he wants his children to learn by his own example. Is he right?

Tim Walker is 50 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their 2 children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz and black t-shirts. Reach him

Father of the Year award

By Ben Tomkins

In principle, I have no real problem with the mentality that there should be a separation between winning and participating when it comes to children. As someone who has spent the vast majority of his life in a career were nobody cares about me as a person when I’m standing on stage taking an audition, I can imagine that an NFL player has an extraordinarily heightened sense of performance/reward. After all, I’m not exactly getting my head bashed in every day by someone who wants my job.

That being said, I conduct the Colorado Youth Symphony Orchestra, and I am extremely proud of my kids for their hard work. When they walk out on stage, I know exactly what they have put into their performance, and if it doesn’t go as planned, I don’t take a single bit of praise away from them. It would take a callous SOB to demand that they either perform or get off my stage. It’s not a question of teaching style either: I think there’s something wrong with you if you don’t understand that difference.

There is a reactionary movement today where parenting techniques regarding competition are shifting from Candyland the game and towards Candyland the plantation from Quentin Tarantino’s Django. I’m pretty sure it has a little bit to do with the extremity of conservatism and a general lack of care for other members of the human species when it comes to money. I get it. Nobody gave you anything growing up except your parents paying for college, buying you a car and coughing up the extra cash so you could have a single dorm room to study away from the student from a poor family in Nairobi who’s lucky not to have been shot by partisans. You had to earn it the hard way and you want your kids to understand that too because it made you the man you are today. Anyone who actually thinks that getting into Yale has nothing to do with the fact that your father was the ambassador to China, heavily involved in one of the most lucrative oil companies not owned by royalty and Vice President of the United States of America under Ronald Reagan doesn’t know how the real world works.

So yeah, there’s a middle ground. There is a difference between winning and losing in terms of independent organizations, but we don’t have to take a hyperbolic approach that acts as though a parent is the same as an event organizer. Should James Harrison have sent back those trophies? I’ll answer it like this: rather than applaud what he did on principle, think about as many different ways to handle it as you can. Is that the best answer you can come up with?

The first thing that comes to mind is not patronizing your kids by pretending they don’t know they got a participation trophy from the tournament. They know they lost. I don’t know everything, but I know enough to know that kids who lose don’t think they are winners no matter what you give them. I’ve seen kids win and lose a million times in my business, and I can guarantee that if I told a kid sitting at the back that they played every bit as well as the kid playing at the front they’d lose respect for me. That being said, I’m not going to force them to take off a special tie their parents gave then to wear when they walk on stage because “they didn’t earn the right.” If you really want to be that grizzled when it comes to preparation versus winning in the real world, then you may want to think about our country’s policy of allowing veterans to wear decorations for participation in U.S. operations regardless of the outcome.

Look, here’s my approach: I don’t use 4 instead of “four” on Twitter. You may as well have Child Protective Services called on you for teaching your children to treat the English language that way. Once that’s cleared up, spend an extra moment on the Internet and find out where the nearest Dairy Queen is and take your kids there. You get ice cream as well even if you wish you had adopted rather than have a couple of losers tumble out of your wife’s womb. I’ve met kids whose parents have basically beaten them with a coat hangar to perform, and while it may be true that they will say it’s what made them successful in their business, they don’t go home for Thanksgiving very often.

I don’t believe the best parenting decision was for James Harrison to take those trophies away from his kids and mail them back to the little league football tournament as if his kids thought they won. It’s a bit too real for me, and getting on Twitter like a hubristic dick is probably the extraordinarily degrading to them. Think about it. I’m sitting here on my computer typing out a piece to be published in a newspaper defending his kids because he chose to publicize it in that way. That sucks. If I were his kid, I would never want to walk on a field again.

All that was needed was to take them aside say some variation of what you published on Twitter to them alone, and give them a hug. That’s all it takes to get that message across.

Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. Reach Ben Tomkins at

Children need to rise

By Rob Scott

 Agreeing on an issue with a Steeler is quite painful for me coming from a huge Cincinnati Bengals fan. The only silver lining is James Harrison was a Bengal for one season.

The standout NFL linebacker Harrison set off a national parenting controversy by returning his children’s participation trophy by claiming they did not earn it. He proclaimed this on social media, which sparked outrage and support from all sides.

Many items come to mind with this mindset, but the best is in the famed Ricky Bobby quote from the Will Ferrell film, “Talladega Nights”: “If you ain’t first, you’re last!”

The crux of the issue is whether there should be participation awards provided for children who are engaged in sports or any other form of competition versus a clear winner and loser. Parenting advocates truly do split on this issue.

One side says there needs to be positive reinforcement for children and the other side is saying by providing praise is setting up children for failure later in life. Each side cites several studies in support of their position.

Harrison’s position is that giving his children rewards for something they did not earn fosters an entitlement belief. Many have backed him claiming this is what is wrong with the younger generation feeling entitled to everything and not truly earning anything.

Never in the years I played sports did I receive a participation trophy. I knew at a very young age that there was a first, second and third… and then typically nothing. I was never gifted athletically and the few times I did show a spark of athleticism, I did receive praise from my teammates and coach. My family always encouraged me, but always pushed me to do more and to improve.

There were many teams I played on that did not win many games and then there were teams that ended up dominating. The ones that lost, I received nothing and the ones I won I would get a trophy or medal.

I grew up in a supportive environment within my family, but it was an environment that rewarded dedication and hard work. From a young age, it was drilled into my head that there will always be someone better than you at something and likewise not as good, but no one should outwork you. Most importantly, never take something that you did not earn.

I took this thinking with me into my own personal life. I remember in law school on the first day, the Dean of University of Dayton School of Law reading off my classmates’ undergraduate GPAs and graduate degrees. She said, “everyone in this room is smart, or you wouldn’t be here. However, what is going to separate you is how hard you will work and what you will sacrifice to get ahead here.” Essentially, if you have the heart, then you will succeed. I truly did take all of that to heart and practice it still to this day, which served me well in law school and life.

Many times from a young age to even now, the greatest learning and growth moments happened when I actually failed. Believe me, I have failed and definitely will fail again down the road. I certainly strive not to fail, but it happens in life.

The question is if you needed a medical doctor or attorney, would you want someone who participated in medical school or law school? Of course not, you would want someone who succeeds and was at the top of his or her class.

Do we as a society reward sports teams who do not win or professional athletes who do not perform? Of course not. I know this firsthand as a Cincinnati Bengals fan.

Failing at something is not necessarily a bad thing. Several inventors, athletes and world leaders failed multiple times before reaching success. Failure is a part of life, but how you respond is truly what makes the difference. An inspirational quote that I use, which comes from the movie, Rocky Balboa, is when the heavyweight champion is telling his son: “Life is not about how hard you can hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”

Ultimately, I agree with giving something and rewarding very young children for participating in competition. However, as children grow into the competition, success needs to be rewarded and failure needs examined. In our society as one gets older, failure is not rewarded and typically is looked down upon. In the working world, failure is definitely not rewarded. In my world of law and politics, failure is definitely the kiss of death.

We should not and cannot coddle children to believe if they try really hard that success will follow. In life this does not always work out, and sometimes your best effort will not be rewarded.

With children, we need to educate them on how to take failure, accept it and learn from it, and rise.

Rob Scott is a general practice attorney at Oldham & Deitering, LLC. Scott is a Kettering City Councilman, founder of the Dayton Tea Party, member of the Dayton Masonic Lodge and Kettering Rotary. He can be contacted at or


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Tim Walker is 51 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz, and black T-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at

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