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In The Super Bowl, There Are No Participation Trophies


When the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers take the field in Super Bowl 50, they’ll have a chance to do what no one has ever been able to do before: create a big audience for Stephen Colbert’s talk show.

Since joining the late-night ranks in September, Colbert has spent equal amounts of time clowning Jeb Bush and emulating him in popularity polls. But all of that could change Sunday night, because when the dust settles in Santa Clara more than 160 million Americans will be searching for something to watch.

Okay, so technically that’s not true. About 50 million will be searching for a loan shark to cover their gambling losses and the other 50 will be Googling “crash diets” and “rehab.” That still leaves about 60 million, give or take the folks who win a box and go out boozing.

Colbert is going to have a monster lead-in. He’ll be following CBS’s coverage of a game that’s expected to have 170 million viewers. That’s not a typo. Super Bowl broadcasts have accounted for the 21 most-watched programs in American TV history. For all the talk you hear about the “M*A*S*H” or “Cheers” finales, neither came within 60 million viewers of last year’s game.

The Patriots-Seahawks matchup was the most-watched broadcast of all time, drawing an audience of 168 million. (That game also set a record for the most people simultaneously screaming “What the f—k!” at a TV screen when Pete Carroll threw it at the goal line.)

The More Viewers, the Better

This year’s audience is expected to be even bigger, but all of this hype and hysteria isn’t just an opportunity for Colbert. The Super Bowl is also a rare chance for parents to show their kids how life really works when you venture beyond the cozy confines of our national coddle machine. There are no safe spaces or participation trophies at the Super Bowl. There are only winners, losers, and hookers. Lots and lots of hookers. You hear me, kids?

The Super Bowl is also a rare chance for parents to show their kids how life really works.

Jokes aside, there are major life lessons to be learned from watching the big game, starting with the commercials. Every time CBS goes to break, an aging celebrity is going to get ripped to shreds in a $5 million ad. Although they won’t love what’s being said about them, they’ll cash a check and move on with their lives, because at the end of the day, smart people know there’s far more value in being able to laugh at yourself than in protesting a joke.

Where else are they teaching that lesson nowadays? If you answered “College,” quit reading now because that’s funnier than anything I’m going to come up with.

How Losing Propels Winning

Another reason to make your kids watch the s—t out of this game is so they can see what it’s like to lose in the worst way possible. Despite all the worship being thrown at the players this week, one of these teams is going to walk out of Levi’s Stadium feeling more useless than a poster for the Santorum campaign (assuming they ever made any).

He doesn’t care about them the way he would have if he fought and earned them.

It’s that sting of defeat that will drive the great ones to work twice as hard so they can take another crack at it. That sting of defeat makes them question what they could have done better, how they could have played smarter, why they didn’t push harder. That sting of defeat drives them to hold themselves accountable instead of blaming their surroundings. And they’ll say as much right there on TV in front of the cameras.

Today’s kids don’t ever witness that anywhere. I know. I coached T-ball. They sucked. The last game of the year, the director handed me a box of trophies, and I almost lost my mind. I was like, “Do you have any idea how much money I lost betting on these kids?” When everyone gets a trophy they don’t mean anything.

My seven-year-old son, Lincoln, has five participation trophies between soccer, hoops, and T-ball. He broke three of them before he got home, and the other two might as well be emails from Hillary Clinton, because nobody can find them anywhere. And he’s not even looking, because he doesn’t care about them the way he would have if he fought and earned them.

American kids are being coddled to the point of ridiculousness nowadays. And what do we have to show for it? A generation of whiny, entitled jackasses who think everyone is special and we should all come in first. (That’s Webster’s definition for millennials.) I know we’re trying to be more compassionate as a society, but this “everybody’s special” narrative is killing us.

Yes, People Need to Know They’re Fat

I read a study the other day that said 40 percent of elementary school children are obese but they’re not doing anything about it because they don’t know they’re obese. Yes. This is what happens when you eliminate bullying. Back in the day, every one of those fat kids would have known they were fat, because someone would have told them.

Now we have a nation full of seven-year-old man-boobs because you can’t call names.

At that point, they would have gone on a high-protein diet and turned their lives around—but no! Now we have a nation full of seven-year-old man-boobs because you can’t call names. If you don’t believe me, it’s because you’ve never been to Disney World. Seriously. Have you ever been to Disney in the last few years? It’s just fat people on scooters eating turkey legs.

That brings me to the biggest reason you should strap the kiddos in front of the TV this Sunday at 6:35 PM. Disney World. The MVP of this game gets a free trip to the Magic Kingdom and a level of super stardom that will last as long as he lives. I’m not saying that Disney World and super stardom are the be-all, end-all in life, but witnessing the accolades that go to the winners of this game will show your kid the payoffs that are out there in every field, if you’re willing to bust your ass and work for them.

Seeing a bunch of 350-pound men weeping on a trophy podium will show them just how great it feels to earn something, as opposed to having it handed it to you just for showing up. Because in the real world, you don’t get to come in first just for showing up. If you don’t believe me, ask Colbert.

Happy Super Bowl, everybody. For what it’s worth, I’ll be betting the Broncos +6. I won’t get into specifics on just how much, but there’s a good chance that if it loses I’ll spend the next six months muling cocaine out of Nicaragua.

You laugh.