The True Meaning of Awards

I was thinking about awards and what they really mean and why they are given.

As a disclaimer, I have been given awards before. Some of them were earned, some might not have been. I don’t know where most of the plaques are for those awards.

It seems that every week we are seeing announcements about public officials getting awards from various organizations, unions, etc. But, what does getting an award actually mean?

In my career as a gymnastics official and coach, I sat on a committee that worked with the age group division of gymnastics competition. That is the level below the international level that you see on T.V. and which has been in the news lately for the evil deeds of one man and the people who covered for him.

In the early 90’s, several members of the committee came up with an idea regarding awards given to competitors at the beginning level of gymnastics competition. Generally, gymnastics competition at all levels gave placement awards, you know, first, second, third, etc. In a large competition, that meant that many athletes went home empty handed. People thought that this was discouraging for the younger athletes, so they proposed a series of awards based on score ranges ( age group gymnastics competition gives awards on scores given out of a ten; for example, a gymnast with a 9.4 score out of ten would beat the gymnast with a 9.35 score out of ten. Ten is the highest they can get. )*

So, under a new award system, there were different colors of ribbons, blue, red, white, yellow, green, etc. each signifying that the athlete got a score in a certain number range. Then, to top it off, they gave the rainbow colored ribbon which basically meant you were there and competed, but didn’t get a score high enough for the lowest level solid colored ribbon.

The idea is that everyone would go away happy, no one would know who came in first, etc.

Of course it didn’t work that way. It didn’t take long for the athletes and more specifically the parents of the athletes to figure out that if they looked at the score sheets after the competition was over, they could see where their child placed in their age group. Of course, these parents kept that a big secret, right? Come on. You know better than that.

And the kids soon lost the appreciation of the ribbons, particularly the rainbow ribbon. We often found them all over the floor of the gym after everyone left. No one took them home for the trophy case.

The truth is that the kids, like the adults, thought this was stupid. They were competing for goodness sake and wanted awards that MEANT something. They wanted trophies for first, second, etc. They wanted to know that they had earned what they got and weren’t just given something for being there.

The same thing happened all throughout youth sports. Remember tee ball where no one was supposed to keep score? Yeah, right. EVERYONE kept score. The “participation trophies” given out in many sports became a focus for scorn and derision.

So here we are in the adult world and the awards flow freely. I find that there are different groups of these awards based on what they mean and why they are given. So let’s look at different kinds of awards.

The first group we will examine are those awards given for actual accomplishment. These awards are based on data, facts, and set criteria. For example, an athlete who is the batting champion in the National division of major league baseball is the one who has the highest average at the end of the season if he has had a certain number of “at bats. ” This year’s winner was Trea Turner who had an average of .328 in 595 at bats. While the value of the batting average can be debated, the parameters of the award are clear. He accomplished this feat and got an award.

Some awards based on accomplishments have parameters but also inject the opinions of others in the award process. For example, again in the MLB, the MVP award considers all the stats in different areas, but in the end depends on the opinions of voters who decide which player was the most valuable to his team. In the end, the selections will be open to debate, but there is an objective component.

There are many other awards that have fuzzier guidelines. These are your honorary degrees from colleges, service awards from community organizations, or named awards like the Roberto Clemente award, again in the MLB, that honor the good deeds, good character of the recipient.

There are awards for doing something for a long time, like a certain job. Lots of corporations give these. And, I guess nowadays, that is quite an accomplishment!

But things are not always what they seem. The honorary degrees are often tied to how much money the recipient has donated to the school. Community organizations gear their awards to people who have been working in the organization for a while and seem to have done good things. “Volunteer of the Year” awards come to mind. These awards are valuable in most cases, but may be more of an indicator of the desire of the awarding body to curry favor or to motivate the recipient to keep volunteering.

Those awards seem nice. Thoughtful. Warm and fuzzy. They aren’t a negative thing, although the honorary degrees seem to me to be a slap in the face of people who actually went to that school to earn a degree. I mean honestly, do you care if I get an honorary doctorate from a college if I didn’t actually go there and become proficient in a skill/subject? Are you going to hire me for my expertise in that skill/subject? Doubtful. They are more of a payback than anything else and possibly a way to get more money or favors from the donor.

There is another category of awards that I call the “Marketing and Political Messaging” Awards. For example, Teacher of the Year awards. Again, disclaimer. I got one of these decades ago.

Let me explain how that happened. I was a good teacher, maybe even great. Teacher of the Year? I’m not so sure. But, my principal at the time wanted me to apply for that. Yes, I said apply.

You see, rather than have the teacher just chosen from a crop of teachers nominated by their schools, teachers had to fill out a huge packet of materials from the state. This packet included giving your philosophy of teaching, your bio, your opinions on several topics, and some student/parent/colleague recommendations. The first year I applied I didn’t get the award. I was told that my ideas were great, but the packaging, the glitz, the glam just wasn’t there. I needed better visuals, a prettier package for my documents.

Are you kidding me? Think about what I was told. Imagine running a hundred meter race and then being told that even though you were the fastest, your apparel for the race wasn’t pretty enough so someone with a prettier outfit won.

The next year I submitted the same materials. This time however, I was helped with presentation, editing and messaging. I needed prettier graphics and definitely a few phrases about the glories of the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program. I was marketed more.

I won for my county and made it to the top five for the state where the winner of the State Teacher of the Year won because he had big fish tanks ( like HUGE ones) where he taught the kids how to raise fish to be released into the wild someday. He was also very cool looking with his jeans and pony tail. Apparently the big push in the state that year was sustainability and the environment. Who knew?

I didn’t begrudge that guy his award. Well, maybe a little. Where was I supposed to come up with an aquaculture program?

In the long run it was a good thing I didn’t get State Teacher of the Year. That would have taken me out of the classroom for a year while I traveled about promoting the U.S. Department of Education initiatives. God works in mysterious ways! I might have had to go to the White House and meet Bill Clinton. No thanks!

Let me be clear, I don’t know what the process is now for this award. I am not saying that previous and subsuquent teachers of the year didn’t deserve it. Most of them deserved it WAY more than me. ( Did I mention that I got the award the year BEFORE they got a car? Timing.)

My point is that sometimes the awards are not a direct result of what skills the recipient has or how well they apply their craft. The whole point is lost in a fog of promotion.

I believe that there are times when people get awards to strengthen them politically. Think about it, do you REALLY think that Barack Obama deserved a Nobel Peace Prize less than a year into his presidency? Other than getting elected and being youngish and half black, what had he done for world peace? Clearly, the Nobel Peace Prize people had an agenda in mind and that was to make Obama look more accomplished than he actually was. Even people who supported him were mystified.

He will always have that on his resume from that point forward and he can cite that to give himself even more credentials than being President for eight years. People who weren’t adults during that time will never know the difference.

To be fair, he’s not the first political figure to be shored up by phony accolades. JFK comes to mind. Yes, he was promoted by his family. The book, “PROFILES IN COURAGE?” He didn’t actually write that. His accomplishments in the World War II, while amazing, were embellished by his marketing team. Yes, he was brave. All men in World War II were brave. They made his situation more extreme with a few tweaks of the story. Again, promotion.

We can probably create a long list of politicians and celebrities who have been given awards without deserving them. One big old turd in the middle of the list was Obama giving Joe Biden the Presidential Medal of Honor. Here is the rationale Obama gave: ” To know Joe Biden is to know love without pretense, service without self regard and to live life fully.” Does that include sniffing various women and young girls? Skinny dipping in front of female Secret Service officers?

Obama went on, ” for your faith in fellow Americans, for your love of country and for your lifetime of service that will endure though the generations. ” So much material here.

Love of which country? Would that be Russia or China? Who paid Hunter more?

And that “enduring through the generations” thing? Sadly, that is correct. Once this senile fool is done, future generations will live in a socialist, one world order hell punctuated with extreme debt.

Remember that Obama once said, ” If anyone can f*** something up. Joe can.” Was effing it up in the description of the Congressional Medal of Honor? Who knew?

The meaning of the award is lost because it was given for reasons other than the original intent. Not only that, the award is cheapened. If I had received that award for actually doing something, I think I might throw it away once Biden got it.

(While we are discussing intent, think about this. If I promise you a gift card if you do something and you really want that gift card so you do what I ask, what does that say about what I want you to do? If what I wanted was such a good thing, a gift card would not be required. And if the action could be harmful, what does my promise of a gift card say about me? Especially if I make the offer to children to get a potentially harmful vaccine? Think about it. )

Okay, let me get back to the big point of this blog, awards and their significance and purpose.

As I said when I started, a local official is given an award. It’s an award voted on by other officials in the state. No criteria for the award is given, but the description of why this person gets this award is clear. The person did their job and didn’t appear to totally muck it up. (I’m paraphrasing.) I’m sure this included doing exactly what the person was told to do by higher authorities with financial incentives including a six figure salary and millions in state grants.

Would anyone ask random constituents of this official about their performance? Probably not.

Honestly, getting an award for doing what your job says you should do and what you are told to do, isn’t that kind of like getting a job recommendation from a previous employer which says, “the person was breathing and worked here”?

Then, let’s imagine that this recipient had instituted policies that required others to do something like, oh, wear masks all day long? But, in the picture of the award recipient being honored they are surrounded by unmasked, not socially distanced people.

By the way, I am purposely being vague. If you figured that out you get the Smarty Smart Reader Award.

The bottom line is that while I might congratulate this person for their award, I want people to understand that awards are not always an indicator of what is true and accurate about a person’s actual performance. And after a while they don’t even mean anything to anyone, even the recipient.

Although, awards can be used as a shield. A shield against criticism. A shield against questioning.

A shield against getting fired. Who fires someone who just got an award?

I wonder though. Wouldn’t doing the right think be a better shield? Or be at least a reason to be able to go to sleep at night knowing you did what was best for others?

Personally, the plaque I got for Teacher of the Year is in a box somewhere. First of all, I had to stand next to Parris Glendenning to get it. Yuck. No one wants to be reminded of that! Second, the real rewards I get now from my teaching career are the kids, now adults, who I taught who remember me, thank me, and who are now successful. They mean much more than a dusty plaque.

But, what do I know.

Information you may not know and don’t care about:*This is unlike our current international gymnastics scoring system which was created in the early 2000’s. It’s called “open ended” scoring and is a bit complicated to explain. Let’s just say that gymnasts are judged on the value of the tricks they do based on the rating of the Federation of International Gymnastics. The ten comes into play as the the second part of the score, which is about how WELL the athlete performed those skills.

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I am a 67 year old runner and conservative. I taught for 31 years and retired a few years back. In my life, I have coached and judged gymnastics, coached softball, and raised two amazing kids.

2 thoughts on “The True Meaning of Awards”

  1. Excellent commentary!
    This brings to mind the latest “MarylandSuperintendent of the Year,” Kelly Griffith. What better cover for “mandated” totalarian implementation than getting this award? Perhaps it is time to look into what is ACTUALLY going on in our school systems!!!

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