Compared to other corruption and lying offenses in the Land of Lincoln, the Jackie Robinson West team scandal seems downright bush league.
The little league team was officially disqualified last week for falsifying residency documents. Their national championship was yanked because teammates didn’t live where they were supposed to live. Their transgression was that the southsiders were mostly south suburbanites.
There was no argument that this Cinderfella team could slug some balls; they were better than the teams they beat. All 13 of these Black boys trained as hard as they played. They didn’t play dirty. They didn’t cheat. They proved to be good sports when they won and good sports in their eventual loss at the World championship to Japan. They could have served as role models for those perennial losers, the Cubs, and those champion cheaters, the Patriots.
They were just in the wrong places at the wrong time.
In this world where you live matters. The 12-year-old little leaguers who played for JRW live in a nation where white conservatives claim concern about the number of Black fetuses aborted every year but could care less about the welfare of Black babies once they are born. The JRW players live in a state where four of its last seven governors and three of its U.S. Representatives have gone to prison for corruption. The JRW players live around a city where, since 1972, a third of the aldermen have been convicted of corruption. The adults did something wrong, but the boys were expected to learn a lesson about doing the right thing.
The main lesson they could learn from Map-gate is getting away with cheating is a coin toss and that there is enough blame to go around.
Blame could flow to Darold Butler, the JRW little league manager, Bill Haley, the league president, Michael Kelly, the Illinois District 4 administrator; and the parents of the players. The map be damned, JRW is Chicago’s go-to Black little league team because it longevity and the potential to win. As a parent, if you want your talented kid to play on a team where he may get noticed, one that will be here today and not gone tomorrow, it’s JRW.
It’s hard to imagine that any of the three men didn’t know they were circumventing the rules. DNAinfo.com reported that five of the JRW players facing questions about their residency were also on the 2014 Chicago White Sox ACE 12-year-old All-Star travel team. Only one of those ACE players had Chicago listed as his hometown on that roster.
Blame could go to Stephen Keener whose due diligence went undone. The Little League International president and CEO only got around to discovering, months after the South Side boys won the national championship, that the grown-ups running the program here may have tried to put the fix in by rigging the maps.
When confronted with choice but action, Keener lawyered up and released this statement after stripping JRW of its title: “Little League International stands by the difficult decision that was announced on Feb. 11. As Jackie Robinson West Little League has retained counsel, we will not be granting any additional media interviews or issuing additional public statements for the time being. Little League International will be working with its counsel to ensure Jackie Robinson West Little League officials and their attorney are fully educated regarding the factual basis of the decision.”
Blame could also go Chris Janes, vice president of the Evergreen Park Athletic Association, whose Little League team lost to JRW 43-2 in the second round. Depending on your perspective, Janes is either a sore loser who was hell-bent on snitching or a well-intentioned whistleblower who exposed the fact that Butler had constructed a super team by breaking the rules.
It’s understandable. Seeing the team that beat your team at the White House for a photo op with President Barack Obama, then going on an all expenses-paid trip to Disney World to hang out with Mickey and Minnie and then parading through Millennium Park with Mayor Rahm Emanuel in step is enough to make you see red.
There can be enough absolution to go around as well. If he’s the concerned citizen he says he is, Janes should vigorously push Little League International to examine the rosters of all the teams that played in the championship so that all can be assured that JRW’s misconduct was in a league of its own.
If he insists on maintaining the geographical restrictions CEO Keener should make it a requirement that every team publicize boundaries so that everyone knows who’s eligible to play where. If everyone was supposed to keep it a secret that some of the JRW players were ineligible, it was not very well guarded. Politicians and principals were all bragging in local and social media about JRW players being residents of their towns and students at their schools.
And the three men who got JRW into this mess ought to lobby to get the residency rules changed from a one-size-fits-all to one where you can recruit the best players without suffering the worst consequences.