Steelers' Harrison defends parenting style during 'Steve Harvey' appearance

Steelers linebacker James Harrison (left) and television host Steve Harvey.
Steelers linebacker James Harrison (left) and television host Steve Harvey.
Photo by Tegan Kinane | NBC
Ralph N. Paulk
| Wednesday, March 2, 2016, 7:15 p.m.

Sometimes-volatile Steelers linebacker James Harrison remains unapologetic about his decision to return his sons' participation trophies last August.

Harrison again challenged those who questioned his parenting skills during an appearance on “Steve Harvey” on Wednesday. He rejected advice from critics that his “old school” approach is out of touch.

“I don't really care what they say,” Harrison said with a familiar scowl. “I'm going to raise my kids the way my parents raised me, and I turned out pretty well.

“I'm going to do the same with them and hope they turn out as well, if not better. My kids are privileged to have a lot of things I didn't get because of what I do. I don't want them to think everything is like that.”

As the youngest of 14 children, Harrison said, “anything I got, I had to earn.”

Harrison's mother, Mildred, applauded his candor, particularly in a debate of old school vs. new school in parenting. She said the controversy over Harrison's decision is an example of the flawed methodology of new-school parenting.

“I don't know why people are making such a fuss over him giving back trophies for something they didn't do,” Mildred Harrison said. “It's just crazy.

“Any trophy he got, he earned it. I had never heard of a participation trophy.”

James Harrison told Harvey he didn't expect his Twitter post concerning the participation trophies to garner national attention.

“It was me expressing about a certain situation dealing with my kids,” the 37-year-old Harrison said. “I'm an old-school parent.”

Harrison said his sons, ages 5 and 7 at the time, were recognized for “doing nothing.” He left the participation trophies on the coach's porch when no one answered the door.

Still, Harrison was compelled to explain his approach to parenting. To polite applause from the audience, he explained his sons accepted his reasoning without much complaint.

“It wasn't first- or second-place (trophies) or even fifth or sixth,” Harrison said. “Before I got there, their mom had previously talked to them, and they would most likely have to return the participation trophies because she and I feel the same way about the participation trophies.

“I pulled them in and told them I'm proud, told them the trophies are going back until they earn a real trophy. There wasn't any whining or crying. It was matter of fact that they were going back. Then the kids asked, ‘Can we go play?' ”

Harrison said there was a bigger lesson to be learned than earning a trophy.

“What I wanted them to learn was you have to earn everything you get and that nothing is going to be given to you,” said the five-time Pro Bowler who solidified a roster spot with the Steelers in 2004. “My parents raised me that way, and I turned out pretty good.”

Eventually, Harrison's sons, James III and Henry, earned trophies playing flag football.

Harrison was part of a panel discussion that included seven mothers, including Toya Graham, who was awarded mother of the year recognition for publicly chastising her son for participating in riots in Baltimore after Freddie Gray was killed while in police custody last year.

Ralph N. Paulk is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.

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