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Number 162 - September 2015

In this issue:

New Men's Retreats

Participation Trophies

Hot Links: Male Body Shaming

Supplement: Men's Gatherings from all over

Gordon Clay, of, has pointed out a page on his site that contains many men's gatherings and retreats from all over. Check out your region for upcoming gatherings. Some are this fall, and some are quite soon, so check today.

Hundreds of other events are listed and categorized here:

I haven't updated the Links section in the Web version of Menletter for quite some time. But the Events link (click on that word or the Events icon above!) will take you to a listing of several I know about, plus a link (it's been there for a long time) of the Menstuff calendar index.


New Men's Retreats

Men's Retreats in New England

New England is blessed with annual and semiannual men's gatherings: Mainely Men, Maine Coast Men, Massachusetts Men's Gathering (MMG), Connecticut Men's Gathering (COMEGA), Granite Men's Gathering (NH), Rhode Island Men's gathering, and the Men's Wisdom Circle. Mainely Men, which has met for over 30 years and hosted 67 gatherings, helped the Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island gatherings get underway and provided the basic structure for their weekend retreats. There's a listing of these gatherings at

The North East Men's Alliance

Now there's a new gathering, based in western Massachusetts. The North East Men's Alliance (NEMA) was formed in 2012. The retreat they now sponsor, Sprit Camp, has been around for 20 years or so. The gathering, which is held twice a year, is organized by a small crew of volunteers. The next Spirit Camp gathering is very close: September 25-27.

Here's what NEMA has to say about itself and Spirit Camp:

NEMA Spirit Camp

For over 20 years, "spirit camps" have been held in the same special space in the Berkshire Mountains.

Held at the serene Camp Hi-Rock atop Mount Washington, [Mass.] this weekend "Ritual-based Men's retreat" is sponsored by The North East Men's Alliance or N.E.M.A.

Men of all ages and walks of life have reported they found the activities and discussions "restorative" and "perspective-changing."

Here's a link to their website:

And here's a link to a flyer in PDF format:

The website and flyer have lots of information to give you a feel for the group and the retreat, plus contact information and prices.

North Coast Men's Gatherings

Not so new - they've been meeting for 25 years - but new to me is the North Coast Men's Gathering near Petrolia, California. This is an offshoot of the California Men's Gathering. This is what they have to say on their website:

The North Coast Menís Gathering is an annual event and a community of men. The purpose of the gathering is to create a safe place in which men of all colors, ages and persuasions can explore aspects of themselves and their lives, with the unconditional support, compassion and esteem of other men. The gathering is a grass roots experience where men are encouraged to engage in a variety of activities.

And here's a link:



Participation Trophies

The Firestorm

Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison posted an Instagram photo and text that started a firestorm.

Seems his kids had been given "Student Athlete Awards" - nice-looking trophies - by a group called Next Level Athletics. He took the trophies away because he felt that they were merely "participation trophies" - not the kind you get when you actually accomplish something. The Instagram post is here:


harrison trophies

© 2015 Instagram


If you don't bother with the link, here's the text he wrote to accompany the picture:

jhharrison92 I came home to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies! While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy. I'm sorry I'm not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I'm not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best...cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better...not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut u up and keep you happy. #harrisonfamilyvalues

This generated over 3700 comments. Most of them seem to praise Harrison for his stand. But there were some dissenters, both among the folks leaving comments and in other websites, particularly a blog by Dani Bostick on "Behind the Steel Curtain, a Pittsburgh Steelers community" on a website called SB Nation.

In Bostick's column, provocatively titled "The Great James Harrison Participation Trophy Scandal of 2015," she takes Harrison to task for not fully understanding the meaning of the particular trophies in question.  (Click on the title to read the article.)

Bostick initially conceded Harrison's central point:

As a parent, I've had to explain to my kids that everyone is not a winner. There is one winner. Everyone who finishes after the winner is, technically, one of many losers. So I get James Harrison's overall perspective. Entitlement is a societal scourge, and it is important for kids to understand that both achievement and effort are essential ingredients for success.

Enter Charlie Batch

But then she noticed that the trophies bore an inscription "Best of the Batch," named after a foundation established by former Steeler QB Charlie Batch.

Bostick points out that "Charlie Batch does not let kids participate in many of his organized activities unless they attend mandatory tutoring. Opportunities for fun competition are contingent on achievement and effort. Traits that even James Harrison would agree are important."

She goes on: "[M]any of the student-athletes that Charlie Batch serves through his foundation do not know where their next meal is coming from. . . . [F] or many Best of the Batch participants, survival takes effort. It isn't handed to them. They work for it. Clothing, a place to sleep, nourishment, sense of safety. There is very little they can count on and take for granted. . . . While earning good grades and participating in a sport might be easy and effortless for some, it is quite an achievement for a young man or woman who battles hunger, an unpredictable home life, and other challenges. Those trophies weren't just for showing up."

A "Clarification" and a Lingering Question

Two days after her post, Bostick added a "clarification" at the beginning: "James Harrison knew what kind of trophies his children received and made an informed choice to return them. Based on the comments section in the article, it seems readers may have misconstrued those facts. My thought here: Participation is in the eye of the participant. Something that feels like a participation trophy to Harrison might be perceived as hard-earned by others."

So is "participation" in the eye of the participant? Maybe. But what does that really mean?

For what were the trophies awarded that Harrison returned? They look like athletic trophies. The wording on them includes "Next Level Athletics" and Student-Athlete Award." They are not, on their face, for "earning good grades and participating in a sport," no matter how challenging those things might have been to a kid (presumably not Harrison's kids). I'm with Harrison's take on all this, at least where it involves his kids.

I do hope that he sat his kids down and explained, gently and in kid terms, what he was doing and why - rather than just grab the trophies and grumble about participation awards.

Life Lessons

People talk about "life lessons" to be gained from participating in sports and other endeavors in which there are winners and losers. Some decry the idea that a different, and damaging, "life lesson" can also be gained from unearned awards and rewards.

It may be all too easy to forget that we're dealing with kids, not advanced amateur or pro athletes.

Here are the rewards, and lessons that I think are available to kids, especially under the guidance of aware adults: Individual effort - knowing you've given your best - is a reward in itself. Teamwork and resulting friendships can be priceless (and lifelong). Learning the rules of a game provide intellectual stimulation and mental organization. Playing by the rules fosters responsibility to the integrity of the game and fairness to the other players.

And this: loving what you do is available to everyone, not just the winners. Part of the parents' and coaches' job is to foster that love.



Hot Links

Here are a couple of links to articles on male body image and body shaming.

Michael Brodeur writes that most of us probably never aspired to be a cartoonishly overdeveloped Schwarzenegger or Stallone. But what about the plethora of images of toned and buff movie stars and models who look like what we could achieve if only we really worked on it? How many of us know in our non-six-pack guts that we'll never get there, and feel lessened as a result?


Beer Gut


Tyler Kingkade has a more personal take, describing his lifelong struggle with how he views his body.


Well worth reading, if only because these are two of the few articles about men that are actually written by men.




© Copyright 2015 by Tim Baehr. All Rights Reserved.

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