Rebuttal To Critical Doer Tip Of The Hat To James Harrison

A Critical Doer capitalizes on opportunities to be better


Thanks to all the readers of the Critical Doer blog and the many new ones that joined the fold following my recent post on Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive lineman James Harrison’s stance on participation trophies in youth sports.  I received one very well thought out rebuttal that’s so good it deserves to be its own post.  The rebuttal is from my son, Sam, who you’ve read about in a previous post.

Before getting to his response, why did I select the Critical Doer trait of capitalizing on opportunities to be better as the lead in?  Critical Doers put ideas out for two reasons…to share knowledge with others, and to have your own ideas refined through the process of scrutiny by those who have already been thinking through a problem possibly even deeper than you.  The latter was clearly the case on this post, and you’ll see how Sam helped refine my thinking.  He made me better, and that’s more important to a Critical Doer than being right.

On a personal note, few things make a dad prouder than children with moral courage to speak their mind and do it with an argument that is rigorous and logical.  Sam, Susie, Jake…you all make me so proud.

Without further ado…here is Sam’s rebuttal: 


Recently the Critical Doer commented on the shockingly newsworthy Instagram post by James Harrison regarding little league participation trophies. One of the most controversial players in the NFL has stayed true to form, as he started controversy between earning and entitlement that has spanned child rearing, politics, sports, and life in general. While Harrison may have a point, I believe he is dead wrong with regard to his reasoning, the message he is attempting to send, and his execution.

In his Instagram tirade, Mr. Harrison argued that he would have his children return their participation trophies until they “EARN” them. His idea that participation trophies are inferior to other awards strikes at the heart of what team sports are all about.

In seventh grade cross-country I learned from Mr. Williams, the team coach that every person was critical, and if they did not bring their best the team would suffer. The logic was that if the slowest person worked his/her butt off they would push the person slightly faster than them, who would in turn work hard and push the person next to them, up the chain to the fastest person. Granted the slowest person would not EARN the first place trophy, however their effort was critical to the overall success of the team, and they deserved some recognition for that effort.

Speaking of mutual success, James Harrison is the proud owner of two Super Bowl rings. In Super Bowl XLIII Harrison made a noted impact on the game. However, what about his first Super Bowl? In Super Bowl XL, James Harrison did see playing time, however, that was the only stat column he populated. That’s right, he showed up to the game, participated, made no other notable contribution, and walked away with a Super Bowl ring. Does he value his participation on a team as more valuable than that of his own kids by retaining this ring?

This attitude toward a participation award also seems to foster a sense of selfishness while consequently setting his children up for failure. Harrison plays a team sport, and while he is seen as a fierce competitor, he is also viewed as a selfish player.

The Steeler faithful can point to a number of times when Harrison went for big hits, received major penalties, gave up free yards, and hurt the team overall. Yes, I am a fan of hard hitting football. Fewer aspects of the game make me cheer louder than seeing a linebacker tee off for a major hit. However, those hits have to be made legally. Harrison’s blatant refusal to change the way he tackled not only hurt his pocketbook, but his team as well.

Yes, individual recognition is great, however, if the individual views themselves as larger than the team it poses serious issues. Consequently, greatness is rarely measured by individual success alone. Basketball provides an excellent example of this. Prior to his first title with the Miami Heat, LeBron James was seen as a phenomenal player, however when compared to Michael Jordan people would scoff at the comparison. Why? Jordan won titles. Surprise, surprise, team success matters as much to people as individual.

I finally feel like his method of teaching his children this message was entirely off base. Honestly? Instagram? If this is a lesson you want to teach your kids, teach them, not the internet. I remember like it was yesterday the day my dad told me one day participation trophies would not be enough. That one day if you wanted the big trophy I would have to earn it. This fostered a desire in me to do better at everything I did. I spent summers in the batting cages, swam countless laps, and worked harder on my homework for a 4.0 GPA. However, he never once made me return the trophies.

The trophies at a young age showed that there were rewards for staying with a team for an entire season, it fostered some of those basic team building skills that are critical to success at not only sports, but for life in general. Yes, at some point if you want the nicer trophies, the recognition, you have to set yourself apart and earn them, and yes people should learn that just showing up does not entitle you to diddly; but the way Harrison executed this message to his own kids is borderline shameful.

Do participation awards serve a purpose? Yes. Will settling for participation awards make you successful? Doubtful. However, these actions seem to hint at a man who does not fully appreciate the value of team. Selfish actions from a man whose career is marked by selfishly refusing to change the way he hit.

Also worth noting – Dan Marino earned a lot of individual accolades, but is rarely considered one of the best due to lacking titles.  Chad Ochocinco and TO – Individual accolades yet were considered poisonous to the locker room.

Minimization of those behind the scenes is still frowned upon. Running backs often buy their linemen gifts. They don’t get the recognition beyond the success of others. Teaching that everyone is vital is key to prolonged life success. I don’t think Harrison is entirely wrong, but he definitely isn’t entirely right.


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Updated: August 22, 2015 — 12:59 pm