By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) This week Jeopardy! is rerunning its Kids Week episodes from last season. Kids Week is awful.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Sunny, Breezy With Seasonable Temps
The questions under their pedantic categories are too easy, and Alex Trebek has to go to great pains to shift from talking to adult contestants like children to talking to children like humans. Kids like Cerulean from Brooklyn — because of course there’s a bow-tied child in Brooklyn named Cerulean — humiliate two other kids by 20 grand while still getting Final Jeopardy wrong. (Barney debuted in 1969, Cerulean? Really?)
But the worst part of Kids Week is looking into the deadness behind the eyes of some of the contestants. There’s a frightening clash of sparks that occurs in their brains as they attempt to answer correctly in front of a live audience, to avoid public defeat and to grapple existentially with their situation while repressing the desire to be simply a kid somewhere far away from a TV studio, knowing they are real life versions of the game show kid from Magnolia.
Kids Jeopardy is one of our many child pageants. And like all child pageants, they’re opportunities for deranged parents to look for their own validation by parading out their special little snowflake for twisted public consumption and ridicule. Parents have ruined the sanctity of the Donald Trump-promoted embarrassing meat parades that are beauty pageants. Parents have ruined games shows where I get to rattle off useless trivia to feel smart in front of others.
And parents and other adults are ruining youth sports. Too many adults in youth sports are worse than Kids Jeopardy! That has been no truer than in the past few days, when adult decision-makers and adult commentators — both of the professional and internet comment section variety — have hiked up their pants waists in huffed fashion and weighed in on the erosion of the hardened American child of yesteryear. Or as your uncle calls it, it’s “The wussification of America.”
Because youth sports are no longer about fun. Youth sports are now about rigidity of adult rules and the twisted marriage of Darwinian and Machiavellian in order to help mold the perfect future internally damaged American citizen.
The dead horse of fun was recently further beaten as the Little League World Series came back to our TVs. We relish in kids playing inferior baseball and cultivating their individuality in their chyron mini-bios and home run celebrations while grownups yell about there being no “I” in team. Then those kids try not to cry in front of millions when they lose, as the audience gobbles up the agony of the distant fictional kids on TV and recycles it into justifiable entertainment.
Adding that special extra intrigue to the uncomfortable display is the renewed arguments about Jackie Robinson West. Grownups ruined our Matt Christopher novel last year. They skirted the all-important big word of “rules” for personal adult gain and were decidedly immature after being called out on it. And maybe they partially did so to give a group of African American boys — that dying baseball demographic — from an area literally and figuratively far away from the Eden of hyperbleached, hyperexpensive and hyperpolitical suburban travel teams a better chance for subjective success.
That story gets the Outside the Lines treatment as our latest great national ethical virus that needs curing before those values-less kids grow up and convert us elders into fuel for their hoverboards.
Kids need to learn to play by the rules, even if it they themselves didn’t knowingly do any great wrong. And they need to learn that they will be pawns in ego contests between their parents and other grown-ups who committed wrongs that involve TV feature pieces and the manufacturing of sports purism.
And even if kids are playing by the rules, they need to be made to understand that just doing that doesn’t earn them a thing. That’s where Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison steps in and lets the world know that he, unlike the wussification-enablers out there, won’t allow his sons to accept participation trophies.
This then becomes the Facebook post du jour, predominantly by people who get some sad satisfaction from children learning the gradual soul crush of the adult experience at a young age.READ MORE: Galewood Man Charged With Aggravated Battery In The Stabbing Of CTA Bus Driver
“This will make those kids better people,” they say. Yes, if “better people” means “people like me with my perfect values system comprised almost exclusively of anecdotal evidence in the vacuum I’ve built myself.” Ya know, those people whose parents told them they were terrible when they didn’t win and hardened them into obsessive workhorses who bullied kids like Cerulean and now solid citizens of the Republic.
In youth sports, good grades only matter if they keep you eligible to achieve victory on the sports field. Harrison’s kids getting a trophy noting their student-athleteness is counterproductive for turning them into the psycho we saw on Hard Knocks who beat his girlfriend and broke her phone so she couldn’t call police and who embarrasses his children for the sake of a really messed up parenting ideal. That’s #harrisonfamilyvalues.
Participation trophies — which kids understand aren’t awards for merit just as I knew in the 1980s when I got one for tee ball — are at best a little momento that can go a long way in making a kid feel good for playing sports that are supposed to be fun. Remember how youth sports were about fun once?
My son got a participation award in soccer. They said it was for hustle. It meant the world to him. We used it to encourage hustle.— Greg (@gwiss) August 18, 2015
At worst, participation trophies should be a nothing in the development of a child. Find me someone prominently displaying a participation trophy years after he or she was given it. Again, kids understand the difference between something they won and something handed out.
But here come the adults. So at worst participation trophies are also a form of child abuse, according to old obtuse people. At worst they become a perceived affront to capitalism. At worst they spark imbecilic discussions between fun-sucking adults.
The lessons of pain and failure and the sports food chain are what preteens need most. And if they can somehow have fun experiencing metaphors for their frightening real-world futures, probably at the expense of some humiliated kid competition, well that’s gravy.
Otherwise fun in youth sports is dead, no matter the lying montages TV feeds us. Rules are rules, and it’s kill or be killed. Kids Jeopardy! shows us that.
Skyler Hornback will be Thomas Hurley’s boss someday. Both will have earned their lots in life by the rules of all-knowing adults.
And all will be right with the world.
The adult world, at least.MORE NEWS: 2 Men Shot In River North
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.