I've been watching Nightline again. Apparently a guy named Dave Mitchell in London feels so badly for the fourth-place Olympians that he's commissioning medals for them from his local trophy shop. He says, "I just think stopping at three is nowadays too soon, too early."
Mr. Mitchell argues that there's no reason not to include another category, perhaps a pewter medal for fourth place. After all, it's the age of no-score children's sports and participation trophies. The bronze medal was only established in 1904. Most Olympic athletes, however, seem to think a fourth place medal would be embarrassing, a "pity medal."
Sports psychologist Michael Gervais makes the obvious point. "If we're not dealing with loss," he says, "we're playing in a make-believe world." The attitude that everybody has a right to be a winner doesn't establish the athletic utopia it's proponents expect. What is the point of winning if nobody loses? Why practice if you win regardless of how well you perform? It's human nature, the same thing which makes capitalism work and dooms socialism to failure.
When I was in seventh grade, we attended an awards ceremony at the end of the year. The same thing had happened in sixth grade, but now there were apparently some new limitations. No one student was allowed to publicly receive more than three certificates lest the other children feel inferior. I received three on stage, and afterwards was secretly handed at least three more.
If fourth place is worthy of a prize, what about fifth place? Will it ever stop before everybody gets a ribbon? It's not a matter of compassion, it's a matter of maturity.