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Pittsburgh Steeler Sparks Debate About Participation Trophies for Youth-Athletes

On Sunday, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison sparked a ferocious debate about the merits of handing out participation trophies to youth-athletes.

Harrison posted a picture on his Instagram page of participation trophies his sons received, saying, "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."

From there, opinions began pouring in.

"If we're honest with ourselves, the trophies, ribbons, and medals we hand out so willingly are more about us than the children getting them," wrote Nancy Armour of USA Today. "It's affirmation that our kids are as wonderful as we think they are. It's also a way to fool ourselves into thinking that we're sheltering them, at least temporarily, from the cold, cruel world."

NBC Washington's Jim Vance took an even stronger stance during his station's 6 p.m. newscast on Monday. As Des Bieler of The Washington Post relayed, Vance said "it's child abuse to give a kid a trophy that he has not earned. If a parent's responsibility is to teach a kid how to deal with the real world, then that is child abuse. Because that's not the real world."

A few of Harrison's Steelers teammates likewise agreed with his decision. "You don't get trophies for participating," linebacker Jordan Zumwalt told Channel 11's Bill Phillips. "I kind of agree with him," wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey told Phillips. "You know, in this world, you've got to earn things."

Last month, HBO's Real Sports featured a segment on the potential ramifications of the "trophy culture" in youth sports, with some experts expressing concern about the unforeseen consequences of participation trophies. Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, told correspondent Bernard Goldberg that participation trophies "set the bar pretty low," as "a trophy puts in his head that whatever he did was good enough, even when it clearly wasn't. That's not how the real world works."

Not everyone is opposed to participation trophies, however. SB Nation's Jon Bois called participation trophies "great," writing, "A participation trophy can be a seemingly small but surprisingly meaningful gesture. When the machine eats you up, as it is built to do, your spirit is all that will save you. Love yourself."

Author Mark Hyman likewise expressed skepticism about participation trophies doing long-term damage to youth-athletes in a conversation with CNN's Kelly Wallace.

"I don't know anyone who is successful in life or has been unsuccessful in life who has been in some ways set back by having received a participation trophy as a 6-year-old," he said. "I have a feeling that Jon Stewart got participation trophies, Barack Obama got participation trophies. It just doesn't add up to me that this is some big developmental obstacle for children."

Where do you fall in this surprisingly divisive debate? Let us know in the comments section below.

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