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The Participation Trophy

What is a participation award? It’s a hunk of plastic and metal that represents a success that is 100% relative. But not in 2020.

I Voted by Vox Efx is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Participation Trophy


Estimated Reading Time: 5 Minutes

If I’m watching TV and the show leans into the theme of the Zoom Call lifestyle, or really hangs their hat on an elbow bump joke, I change the channel. I have no time for anything that’s normalizing what I went through in the Spring of 2020.

I contracted COVID-19 between March 9th and the 12th when my entire industry shut down for what we were told would be “just a month.” It was not a month; it would be almost eight months and counting. It’s a miracle no one at my job got sick besides me, and trust me, I’m the first one to point that out. I came very close to participating in the spread of COVID-19. That’s not a participation trophy I want to receive.

However, I have received a few of them over a few months.

I participated in watching the death toll climb to 235,000 people in this country, as someone who lost friends and family.

I participated in seeing my industry crumble to ruin as the future remains uncertain for the hyper specialized field I’ve spent my life rising though the ranks of.

I participated in the self doubt that comes from the long stretches of time that we did not leave our apartments for days.

I participated in seeing refrigerated trucks drive through my neighborhood toward the hospital two blocks away.

That’s just a handful of things I’ve participated in, and that’s why I participated in the 2020 election. And it’s why I’m so thankful to see so many of my friends, family, and community voicing their participation by voting, some for the very first time.

And I want to give all of those people the biggest participation trophy I can find.

There’s been a lot of talk about “Participation Trophies” over the last few years, the majority of it coming from the right. The idea is that my generation, Millennials if we’re gonna use the scientific term, has been coddled since childhood, and have expected everything handed to us. The idea goes further, explaining that my generation expects to be praised, celebrated, and rewarded just for showing up. We expect awards for participating.

I actually have a couple of old soccer trophies in the basement of my parent’s house. They don’t have “consolation prize” or “participant” on them, but they do have a team name, a year and a boat load of memories attached.

And at the end of the day, that’s all they really require. My little league trophies are much bigger and glitzier, but do they mean more? Do they hold more weight?

No, not really.

What is a participation trophy? It’s a hunk of plastic and metal that represents a success that is 100% relative. However, you still have to show up to get one. And showing up is half the battle. I claim those trophies I didn’t win because I showed up for my teams through both victory and defeat. Showing up is the only way to lay claim to your piece of the victory that is showing up.

What does this have to do with Sports? Good question, I’ll see you in the comments section, I’m sure. Participation trophies don’t exist in professional sports. The Dodgers and Lakers didn’t take home their trophies just by showing up. If that were the case, the Washington Wizards are getting some hardware.

I had accepted many Participation Trophies before 2020, and more than likely, you have as well. I didn’t win any of these, but I claim them. Why? Well, because I have been a Patriots, Celtics, Bruins, and Red Sox fan over the last twenty years. That’s ELEVEN Championships. Because of my hometown affiliations, I claim these victories as my own, right?

Yankee fans, how many of those 26 World Series Rings did you personally win? Exactly. How many ticker-tape parades were about you and your accomplishments?

As a Mets fan, I claim the smaller victories that come my way. Jacob deGrom’s Cy Young Awards, the 2015 World Series appearance, things that don’t truly mean anything at the end of the day. However, I’d argue that those small victories make all the difference.

You have to be in the room where it happens if you want to make things happen. And in 2020, that means voting.

So to those people who are showing up to the polls for the first time in their lives, here’s your participation trophy. Congratulations! You are participating in something bigger than you and me, you’re standing up for something bigger than all of us, you’re making a choice to be there and show up. That’s big. Do not let the magnitude of your decision to make your voice heard pass you by.

The only way you don’t get a participation trophy is to not show-up, to not try, to be non-existent. Showing up is not half the battle. It is the battle, and in 2020 there’s a lot on the line.

Personally, for me, the choice is easy. In 2020, I voted for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to lead this country toward a brighter horizon. But in reality, I didn’t vote for two people, I voted for many more.

I voted for my wife’s grandmother, who passed away in a nursing home from COVID-19. I voted for Nick Cordero, who left behind a wife and child after the virus took his leg and eventually his life. I voted for Anthony Causi, the most underrated sports photographer, who lost his battle with the virus.

I voted for George Floyd, Philando Castille, Breonna Taylor and all of those who still deserve justice from a justice system that doesn’t work for over half of this country. I voted for the families of victims of Police Brutality, in the hopes that the future brings them peace and change.

I voted for all those arts workers who, like myself, are struggling to find work. I voted for every single essential worker who has put their life on the line to make sure we can still function as a society.

It’s not a participation trophy for you, it’s one that we all share. It’s not just you participating, it’s people participating through you and because of you. To someone, you are their participation trophy. You are the result of their fight, of their battle. We need to start being each other’s supporters, to be each other’s fans, to be vocal in support of those around us.

This site is a result of reactionary viewership that feels far more tangible than it should. We can write 1,500 words on a man’s failure to field a groundball or about which Air Jordans are the best, but that’s all after the fact.

We cannot participate in the world of which we create from. Do not let that be the case in your life.

Participate. There’s a trophy.

The trophy is Change.

Justin Colombo is a 2017 Broadway Show Softball League All-Star at 3B/SS. He's essentially the Manny Machado of the Kinky Boots team. Justin has been writing about Baseball since he was a little kid. Now that being an actor in NYC has given him a lot of free time, in 2015 he decided to take his passion public and founded Three Up, Three Down as a way to express his love for the game. From there, Three Up, Three Down grew from a hobby to an obsession. After years of growth and one insult from MLB's Historian, Justin launched The Turf, a way to expand into all areas of the sporting world. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. LET'S. GO. METS.

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