- - Thursday, August 21, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Bear Bryant, the famous football coach at Alabama, disdained settling for a tie as something like “kissing your sister.” Nothing against sisters, but a kiss is supposed to mean business. America grew to be great because it aspired to be a nation of winners, of competitors striving to be the best. But by one important measurement, we risk becoming a culture of sister-kissers.

On some playing fields, where someone (but not the Duke of Wellington) said the Battle of Waterloo was won, a tie is the equal to winning. Just showing up must be rewarded as equal to succeeding. Victory is an unimportant afterthought. Everyone should get a trophy.

Nowhere is the culture of coddling losers and rewarding the best with an indifferent shrug more prevalent than in youth sports. Instead of awarding a trophy to the players on the best team, or to the outstanding player in the lineup, it’s fashionable in some children’s sports leagues to give every player the same trophy.

In such a misguided effort to make all children feel good, society is shortchanging the kids by teaching a damaging lesson for the future. Rewarding every child equally is rewarding no one. A trophy, regarded in generations past as something to sweat and strive for, becomes little more than a shiny piece of junk, hardly worth keeping.

Defining outstanding skill or success on the playing field that way takes away the incentive to work hard. Those who actually excel feel overlooked, and those who could be encouraged to work harder have little motivation to get better. The good news is that most Americans understand this.

A new Reason-Rupe poll finds that 57 percent of Americans think that only winners should get a trophy, and only 40 percent — a large percentage, but still a minority — think that everybody should get the same trophy just for showing up.

Two-thirds of Republicans, apparently in the belief that the country was founded, after all, as a meritocracy, say a trophy should be a recognition of the best. Democrats, according to the poll commissioned by Reason magazine, “are evenly divided with 48 percent who say all kids [should get a trophy], and another 48 percent who say only the winners should receive a trophy.”

Sixty-seven percent of college graduates say a trophy is for the winner, and only 29 percent say everybody should get one. That shouldn’t be surprising since successfully completing college is a struggle, and success is rewarded with a trophy, a diploma.

The poll reveals — no surprise here, either — that Americans who think capitalism is unfair, that the government solves problems better than the free market and the government should hand out more goods and services, believe strongly that every child should get a trophy just for showing up.

Trophies-for-everyone, an idea of misplaced compassion, might be harmless enough applied only to tee-ball and putt-putt, but it has consequences when children grow up with no appreciation of competitive success. Why work hard when everyone gets the same reward? Incentives work. No one in the real world gets a trophy just for showing up. That’s the lesson that life teaches everyone.