Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Curse of the Participation Trophy

Last weekend Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison posted an Instagram photo of a pair of “participation trophies” that were awarded to his two sons – and apparently to everyone else on the team as well – by their sports league. Harrison announced firmly that he is returning the trophies because they weren’t earned.
“While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do,” he wrote, “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 and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best...cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better...not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut u up and keep you happy.#harrisonfamilyvalues
James Harrison has lived his own lesson about earning success. The youngest of 14 children, Harrison was a walk-on at the Kent State University football team, went undrafted by the NFL in 2002, and was cut four times by pro teams before going on to become a five-time Pro Bowl selection. “James is the type of person who will say: ‘I will prove you wrong. I deserve to be here,’” said Harrison’s best friend. Harrison, now 37, seems determined to instill that perseverance and fortitude in his boys, who are 8 and 6 years old.
The photo subsequently went viral and Harrison’s “family values” met with approval from every corner of the internet. The very fact that his principled position was so applauded indicates not only to what degree our culture has become infected with an entitlement mentality, but also to what degree many Americans have had enough of it. They recognize what should be obvious: that if everyone gets a trophy, then the trophy is meaningless; if simply showing up is praiseworthy, then the praise is worthless.
There is a scene in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland in which the Dodo Bird is asked to declare the winner of a running competition, and without considering how far each participant had run or for how long, he announces that “Everybody has won and all must have prizes!” While reasonable people may find this nonsensical and patently unfair, it unfortunately describes an attitude toward children that has become prevalent among many educators, coaches, and child development experts.
Their theory that shoring up a child’s self-esteem is of primary educational importance has led to an obsession with protecting young people’s feelings at the expense of actual education, even in institutions of higher learning. Safe spaces, trigger warnings, and other politically correct shelters encourage insularity and infantilism rather than the broadening and maturation that should be the point of education.
In her book All Must Have Prizes, the brilliant columnist Melanie Phillips addressed the intellectual failure and moral relativism at the heart of such an educational doctrine. A Rousseau-influenced, “child-centered” approach meant that education was no longer seen as “the transmission of knowledge but as a therapeutic exercise in self-realization,” as Phillips put it. The result has been neither better-educated kids nor kids with better self-esteem.
Gill Robins, a British educator and author of Praise, Motivation and the Child, complains that handing out prizes for all is “very patronizing” and “simply doesn’t work” in terms of molding children’s behavior or laying the groundwork for their ability to understand the world. “How can the self-esteem of a person possibly be nurtured by telling them that they are as good at something as everyone else, even when they know that it’s not true?” And yet “our thinking is still weighted down by an outmoded belief that we can shape a person with daily bribes.”
No decent parents want their children to feel like losers. But attempting to prop up a child’s self-esteem with hollow participation trophies ensures not healthy confidence but narcissism. Jean M. Twenge, author of The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement, writes that “[T]he ‘everybody gets a trophy’ mentality basically… builds this empty sense of ‘I’m just fantastic, not because I did anything but just because I’m here.’”
Of course, it’s important to encourage very young children to attempt new things, and to reward them with praise for the effort, regardless of how successful the attempt. You don’t want them to be afraid to try. You want them to know they have your unfailing support. But gradually they must be challenged and allowed to fail. At some point the training wheels must come off, and they must experience falling down and learn to get up and try again. They must develop – the hard way – a realistic sense of their own talents and of the sometimes boundary-pushing mental and physical effort required to actually accomplish something. Authentic self-esteem comes from striving and achieving, not from empty praise and condescending trophies.
Perhaps the widespread, approving response to James Harrison’s stand is an encouraging indication that parents are once again embracing common sense, and that failed educational theories are headed the way of the Dodo.

From Acculturated, 8/20/15

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Is Frugality the New Living Large?

The news that rap mogul Fifty Cent filed for bankruptcy not long ago surely raised a few eyebrows. After all, he seemed the very epitome of living large – but then, living large is something of a fickle illusion. Recent history is littered with examples of entertainers who rocketed to fame and fortune, only to come crashing to earth ignominiously, stunned when the seemingly endless good life abruptly fizzled out: Fifty’s fellow bankrupted celebs include MC Hammer, TLC, and Toni Braxton (twice), to name just three well-known examples.
Athletes too can suffer the same financial fate: boxer Mike Tyson, basketball’s Scottie Pippen, baseball’s Jack Clark, and many more. While players are active the money faucet seems like it will never stop flowing, but in a few years it can dry up – and for shortsighted athletes, who often have no other job skills, their savings dry up just as quickly. In 2008, the NBA Players’ Association claimed that 60 percent of pro basketball players go broke within five years of retirement. That is a sobering statistic.
Or it should be, anyway. But athletes in their prime are living in the eternal now of youth, and feeling invincible. Even when they do have one eye toward the future, most have no conception of how to manage the bucks they rake in.
Vin Baker, for example, spent 13 years in the NBA, playing in four All-Star Games. But alcoholism and a string of bad financial choices such as a failed restaurant combined to wipe out nearly $100 million in earnings.
“When you make choices and decisions and think that it will never end, and then you get into spending and addiction and more spending, it’s a definite formula for losing,” Baker said. Asked what advice he would give other players, he said, “I’d want guys to not take the money for granted. It can be here today and gone tomorrow… As quickly as that contract can be signed, there are a hundred things that can also ruin it.”
When Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie first came into the NFL, he had an addiction also – to spending money. “I was out of control,” he said. Cromartie blew all the guaranteed money from his rookie contract – about $5 million – in his first two years in the league, on luxuries like nine cars, two homes, jewelry, and hangers-on.
Cromartie now shares his hard-earned financial experience with teammates: “I want to help others learn from what I did wrong,” he said. “I tell the young guys, ‘Don't spend any money the first year and a half of your career. You don't know what will happen after that.”
Baltimore Ravens guard John Urschel reportedly lives on $25,000 a year and even had a roommate last year to keep expenses down. Urschel made $564,000 in salary and bonuses as a rookie in 2014. His deal is worth $2.3 million, but only the $144,000 signing bonus was guaranteed. If he gets cut, the team owes him nothing, so Urschel is keenly aware that he needs to make the money last.
Toward that end, he drives a used 2013 Nissan Versa which he bought for $9,000. His modest ride looks rather hilarious in this tweeted photo of it between the massive, expensive vehicles of a pair of fellow players, but I don’t think anyone will dare ridicule the 308 lb. Urschel about it.
Another example is Detroit Lions wide receiver Ryan Broyles, who was drafted in 2012. His contract was worth over $3.6 million, more than $1.4 million of which was guaranteed. But Broyles had seen other athletes blow through their stash, and he was determined to avoid that. He met with a financial adviser who urged Broyles to figure out his means, set a budget, live within it, and invest the rest.

Broyles says that he and his wife have lived on about $60,000 a year throughout his career so far. Everything else has gone toward ensuring that his post-football monetary future is set. He drives a Ford Focus rental car during training camp and he still has his 2005 Chevrolet Trailblazer from college. “Whatever comes, it's just a blessing,” he says. “But I got the mindset of a businessman off the field, I'll tell you that.”
Broyles now coaches others on finances. Earlier this year he traveled to Washington, D.C. to speak to students about financial planning. He is working with VISA and the NFL on promoting financial security and planning.
Players like these are becoming the new role models for up-and-coming athletic superstars. HBO has even centered a new show, Ballers, on a former-athlete-turned-investment-counselor (played by Dwayne Johnson) who tries to knock financial sense into athlete clients before their dream jobs turn into nightmare unemployment.
My friend Eric Matthews, a wealth advisor and associate vice president at the Beverly Hills investment firm LourdMurray, represents entertainers and athletes. I asked him if he is seeing a trend of budget-consciousness among his clients, or if the temptation to live large is still too great.
“I think the lure will always be there,” he answered:
I have a rookie wide receiver I am working with now. He got back from rookie camp and already wants to own a big tricked-out SUV in addition to the sports car he wants to buy. He's living on the minimum and isn’t even guaranteed a spot on the roster yet. He wasn't talking like this before rookie camp. Now that he's back I saw the twinkle in his eye for stuff. I have to remind him that he didn't work this hard in high school and college to get to this level in his career to blow it all on cars and trucks. We have to think bigger picture. It is starting to resonate deeper the more time I spend with him, but it takes time and education. There is a whole world for these guys to discover still.
But Matthews does see a greater financial awareness, especially among younger clients:
Millennials and the iGeneration want more transparency. Many want to know where others went wrong. I always tell them that we need to focus on what we can control, and the hard part that a client can control is their behavior. A lack of money discipline is what really hurts guys.

The good news is that many young players are wising up to the foolish and illusory nature of living large and embracing the advantages and stability of frugality. As Eric Matthews told me, “What these young players are realizing is that they don’t need to be the next example of a broke athlete.”
From Acculturated, 8/17/15

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Ronda Rousey Proves ‘Strong is the New Sexy’

For women frustrated by our culture’s intimidating standards of beauty and sexiness epitomized by say, the Victoria’s Secret Angels, the good news is that there is a new feminine body image ideal in town – and it belongs to Ronda Rousey.
It’s been a big summer for the mixed martial arts champ Rousey. In June she appeared in a romantic role playing herself in the Entourage movie. That wasn’t her first film – Rousey had previously appeared on the big screen alongside heavyweight action stars in The Expendables 3 and Furious 7, and is now apparently slated to star in a movie version of her autobiography, My Fight/Your Fight.
Fresh off that Entourage appearance, in July she scored ESPY awards for Best Female Athlete and Best Fighter (in a category that included four male nominees). A few days after that, she put down her trash-talking UFC opponent Bethe Correia in a mere 34 seconds to retain her women’s bantamweight title. That’s par for the course (if I may mix my sports metaphors) for the undefeated Rousey, who routinely forces her opponents into submission in less than the first minute of the first round, and who owns the record for the shortest match (14 seconds) in UFC championship history.
But the most significant and unexpected development came this Tuesday when it was announced that she would be the next model to spice up a Carl’s Jr. burger commercial. The fast-food chain is known for its sexed-up ads featuring barely-clad supermodels dripping hot sauce as they indulge orgasmically in a burger. Previous models have included Jessica Simpson, Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, Emily Ratajkowski of “Blurred Lines” infamy, Kate Upton, and Charlotte “the new Kate Upton” McKinney – all sex symbols in the traditional vein.
The choice of Rousey signals not only an interesting change of direction for Carl’s Jr., but also an acknowledgement of a new standard for female sexiness. The kickass Rousey is no mere sex kitten. Her intimidating physical power and animal intensity, combined with a disarming grin and wavy blonde mane, are making her the face (and body) of a new kind of sex symbol.
They earned her, for example, the cover of ESPN the Magazine’s The Body Issue 2012, in which she posed discreetly nude, as well as an appearance in the 2015 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. For the latter, the 5’7”, 135-lb. Rousey actually gained weight intentionally – no doubt a first for an SI model – because “at 150 pounds, I feel like I'm at my healthiest and my strongest and my most beautiful.”
She may carry herself with a pantherish confidence now, but in a Cosmopolitan interview last month, Rousey revealed that she once had her own body image issues:
I grew up thinking that because my body type was uncommon [i.e., athletic], it was a bad thing. Now that I'm older, I've really begun to realize that I'm really proud that my body has developed for a purpose and not just to be looked at.
Rousey elaborated on this a little more explicitly when she countered critics recently who called her too “masculine”:
I have this one term for the kind of woman my mother raised me to not be, and I call it a do-nothing b*tch. A DNB. The kind of chick that just tries to be pretty and be taken care of by someone else. That’s why I think it’s hilarious if [someone thinks] my body looks masculine or something like that.
Listen, just because my body was developed for a purpose other than f*cking millionaires doesn’t mean it’s masculine. I think it’s femininely badass as f*ck because there’s not a single muscle on my body that isn’t for a purpose, because I’m not a do-nothing b*tch. It’s not very eloquently said but it’s to the point and maybe that’s just what I am. I’m not that eloquent, but I’m to the point.
Yahoo! Beauty editor Bobbi Brown was bowled over enough by Rousey to call her “the new face of beauty.” In an interview with Rousey, Brown gushed,
I saw this beautiful picture of you and it stopped me because you were in a bathing suit and you have the most beautiful strong body. Before I even knew who you were I said, “Oh my god this is the new face of beauty.”
“We are trying to push strong as the new sexy as much as possible,” Rousey replied.
Indeed, and it’s working. Ronda Rousey and other star athletes like Serena Williams and skier Lindsey Vonn (both of whom Rousey beat out for the ESPY this year) are proving that strength is sexy in men and women. They’re helping to free women from the media’s expectation (demand, really) that their bodies are merely to be looked at. They’re inspiring women to aim for a healthy new ideal. Most women can’t strive to meet the body standard of a genetic lottery winner and professional mannequin like Gisele Bundchen, but they can strive to be strong and purposeful and to adopt a winner’s perseverance. In other words, they can strive, like Ronda Rousey, to be “femininely badass.”
From Acculturated, 8/7/15