Media and Participation Trophies


Over the past few days, there has been a pile of righteously indignant (and ridiculing) posts on social media about the fact that GQ decided to make Colin Kaepernick their “Citizen of the Year.” While the general sentiments of people are probably understandable, one thing doesn’t seem to be coming up often:

What exactly is the GQ Citizen of the Year Award?

A quick search on Google for “GQ Citizen of the Year 2016” yields the following:

No, you’re not missing something, and no Google isn’t simply flooded with this year’s recipient. There wasn’t a “Citizen of the Year” named by GQ last year. It’s a new invention this year, and only time will tell whether or not it will be repeated.

So, for anyone who was thinking that this was some kind of important honor, it’s most likely that the editors of GQ were looking for a way to elevate Kaepernick in the eyes of the public by calling him “Citizen of the Year” – basically, a magazine version of a participation trophy. It’s possible that they will name someone next year, and the year after that, but no matter what it’s going to take years for this “honor” to hold any real value – if it ever does.

Frankly, these things are becoming a marketing tool for print magazines that are trying to occasionally boost their hard copy sales throughout the year. Time magazine has been devaluing the honor of being named “Person of the Year” by repeatedly choosing either groups of people or highly controversial individuals. It is becoming obvious that the only real reasons the magazine editors are giving out awards are about selling magazines. It’s certainly not about any real accomplishments of the winners. In the case of Kaepernick, it’s probably best to say that he’s becoming the political activism version of the Kardashians. If people are brutally honest with themselves, they can’t truthfully point out where the noble cause really is for him, since his activism is swimming neck deep in self-interest. Kaepernick would just be yet another pro-athlete who ceased to be valuable to pro-teams because of under-performing on the field. No one would be talking about him if he hadn’t turned what probably was a session of sulking on the sideline into a political statement. That’s even a stretch, since the “movement” he started still hasn’t clearly stated what it is protesting or more importantly, what concrete changes it wants to see in society. It is an amorphous feeling that attaches itself to various headlines along the way, pushing indignation and disrespect without a substantial purpose that could promote real change.

As for GQ, we have about a year to wait and see if this was just a one-off stunt for sales, or if they’re really going to try to offer a quasi-real award for citizenship each year. No matter what, don’t expect much. These awards still aren’t about anything except the bottom line for media companies that are desperately trying to sell more glossy print.