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Nobel Prize for participation? Chicago parents know trend
By Chuck Goudie | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 10/12/2009 12:03 AM

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As a fellow soccer dad, Barack Obama shouldn't have been surprised when he won this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

The Nobel Committee has merely started using the same criteria for the Peace Prize as our children have come to expect for winning "awards" in their lives.

Just show up.

The Goudie's and the Smith's across Chicagoland all have drawers-full of proof. The Obama's probably do too, especially from Sasha and Malia's Chicago days.

If your children have worn a Little League uniform, kicked a soccer ball or tossed corn kernels into the ring of fire at an Indian Princess campout, you know what I'm writing about.

The dreaded "Participation Award."

It usually takes the form of a ribbon, maybe white, green or black. Unlike the coveted blue ribbon that is reserved for children who actually have excelled, participation ribbons are handed out to those who have just shown up; not practiced very much or might face a lifetime of shame, humiliation and counseling if they are overlooked.

Sometimes those youngsters who just show up are even given participation trophies so that they won't burst into tears at the site of a teammate being praised for actually achieving something.

Participation awards are like those cheap plastic trinkets tossed from floats at today's Columbus Day parade. You don't have to do anything to get one; they end up in a junk drawer and eventually in the trash.

Of course it hasn't always been this way for our kids or for the Nobel Peace Prize. The early to mid 1900s was an era when parents didn't have to fear scorn, litigation or a home invasion if their Johnny outperformed a neighbor boy.

And back then, when accomplishment was good (and an award in and of itself,) Chicago had a regular presence in the Nobel Peace Prize nominations.

Most notably was Jane Addams, the woman not the tollway.

Addams, a Chicago social worker, feminist and international humanitarian, was first nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1916. By then, Addams' resume was substantially longer than Mr. Obama's is today. Born in downstate Illinois, the 8th of 9 children, her father was a Civil War officer and a veteran state senator.

In 1881 she graduated as valedictorian from Rockford College for Women and spent several years traveling and studying on her own. In 1889, Addams opened one of Chicago's most famous landmarks to this day: the Hull House for the underprivileged.

Then she was appointed to the Chicago Board of Education, helped start the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy and became the first woman president of the National Conference on Charities, led investigations of public health and safety concerns and, just to round out her life, worked as a 19th Ward garbage inspector.

She was the first leader of the Women's Peace Party, traveled the world advocating peace instead of war, and became president of the International Congress of Women.

Oh, Addams was also the first woman awarded an honorary degree by Yale University.

That was all before her first Nobel nomination in 1916.

But she didn't win the Nobel that year.

Nor was she a laureate any of the next 14 years, even though she was nominated 89 more times.

During those years Addams continued to be one of the Chicago's most notable citizen-leaders, living in the Hull House which was serving thousands of poor people every day.

From that platform, she worked aggressively to keep America out of World War I and faced heavy criticism as a pacifist. But even after suffering a heart attack in 1926, Addams persisted by providing food and medicine to the women and children of enemy nations. It was a story she told in the book Peace and Bread in Time of War (1922).

Finally, in 1931, Jane Addams became the first American woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize.

Or at least half of it.

Nicholas Butler, the president of Columbia University got the other half. Butler was also a strong advocate for peace through international cooperation.

Neither Addams nor Butler were newcomers, nor were they honored for just showing up in the world. Their achievements were solidly behind them.

Unfortunately, the Nobel rules are not transparent and do not allow the public release of nominee's names until 50 years after the fact. So, we have no idea who else was on the list with President Obama. All we know is that there were 205 nominees for the Peace Prize - the most ever.

For 204 of them, participation ribbons are in the mail.

Chuck Goudie, whose column appears each Monday, is the chief investigative reporter at ABC 7 News in Chicago. The views in this column are his own and not those of WLS-TV. He can be reached by email at and followed at