Reaction to Chicago’s Little League Debacle

The Jackie Robinson West Little League team from the south side captured the hearts of Chicago with its historic run in the Little League World Series this summer. But it is all for naught. Today, Little League International stripped the team of its U.S. Championship after an investigation found foul play from coaches and league administrators.

​Little League International says it made the move to strip Jackie Robinson West of its title because the team recruited players from surrounding Little League territory and submitted a falsified map to Little League. The league, “knowingly expanded its boundaries to include territory that belonged to other leagues in the district without approval from the other leagues or the Little League International Charter Committee,” according to the report.

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The report goes on to say: “This is a heartbreaking decision. What these players accomplished on the field and the memories and lessons they have learned during the Little League World Series tournament is something the kids can be proud of, but it is unfortunate that the actions of adults have led to this outcome. No team can be allowed to attempt to strengthen its team by putting players on their roster that live outside their boundaries.”

The players and parents say they were blindsided by today’s news.

“We’ve worked hard and we’ve grinded through this,” said pitcher Brandon Green. “We went down there and got that title. If they do take it away from us, I don’t think we should be penalized because of a technicality.”

“The children and the parents…have done nothing wrong but keep African-American male children off of the street and out of the grave and out of prison,” said Green’s mother Venisa. “For that, they should be applauded and not punished.”

Evergreen Park Athletic Association Vice President Chris Janes first blew the whistle alleging some of the Jackie Robinson kids actually lived in the suburbs, but Little League dismissed his complaints. Some of those kids came from split households where one parent was in the city, the other in the suburbs. But Little League says they submitted enough documentation to fulfill residency requirements. Janes' complaints got the ball rolling as other Little League administrators came forward saying their territory had been encroached upon.

“These are kids that live really far away, and they literally changed multiple boundaries to fit addresses to make them eligible to play,” Janes said. “Little League’s about building character and teaching integrity. If we say, ‘we broke the rules, but we don’t want to hurt your feelings, so we’ll let you go,’ that sends a really awful message. Once it was evident that cheating occurred, someone needed to be held accountable.”

There has been a lot of high-profile reaction today from community leaders. The Rev. Jesse Jackson called a press conference slamming the decision, invoking charges of racism and saying they would use any means necessary, including legal, to try and appeal it.

“This is an unusual level of suggestion that they won because they did something wrong,” Jackson said. “This is persecution. This is persecution. This is not right. It’s unnecessary, and it’s not fair.”

And the news has resonated all the way to Washington, D.C., with even President Obama’s chief spokesperson Joshua Earnest weighing in.

“The president is proud of the way they represented their city and they represented their country,” Earnest said. “Dirty dealing by some adults doesn’t take anything away from the accomplishments of those young men.”

And Mayor Emanuel, who had so publicly attached himself to the Jackie Robinson West phenomenon, echoed those sentiments.

“The city remains united in its support of these great children and in our hearts, they will always be champions in Chicago," Emanuel said.

Read a statement from Little League International.

After an extensive review of the operations of Jackie Robinson West Little League and Illinois District 4, the Little League International Charter/Tournament Committee has determined that the Jackie Robinson West Little League and Illinois District 4 Administrator knowingly violated Little League International Rules and Regulations by placing players on their team who did not qualify to play because they lived outside the team’s boundaries.

The Charter/Tournament Committee has decided to vacate the league’s wins from the 2014 Little League Baseball® International Tournament, including its Great Lakes Regional and United States Championships, and suspend team manager, Darold Butler, from Little League activity. Illinois District 4 Administrator, Michael Kelly, has also been removed from his position. Jackie Robinson West Little League has been placed on probation with its tournament privileges suspended until such a time that new leadership in the positions of President, Anne Haley, and Treasurer, Bill Haley, have been elected or appointed, and that the league is fully compliant with all Little League International Regulations.

Little League International found that Jackie Robinson West Little League used a falsified boundary map for their 2014 tournament, and that Jackie Robinson West Little League officials met with other leagues in Illinois District 4 to try to get the territory they wrongfully claimed was theirs for their 2014 tournament.

“For more than 75 years, Little League has been an organization where fair play is valued over the importance of wins and losses,” said Mr. Stephen D. Keener, Little League International President and CEO. “This is a heartbreaking decision. What these players accomplished on the field and the memories and lessons they have learned during the Little League World Series tournament is something the kids can be proud of, but it is unfortunate that the actions of adults have led to this outcome. As our Little League operations staff learned of the many issues and actions that occurred over the course of 2014 and prior, as painful as this is, we feel it a necessary decision to maintain the integrity of the Little League program. No team can be allowed to attempt to strengthen its team by putting players on their roster that live outside their boundaries.” Read the complete statement.
Read a statement from Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis.
HOLLYWOOD, FL - Today, Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union issued a response to the decision to revoke Jackie Robinson West’s Little League championship:
“I do not respect the decision of Little League International because the officials have not respected the ethical and emotional well-being of the children involved in this matter. The young men of Jackie Robinson West brought their talent, skills, smarts and hearts to the playing field and captivated a nation by securing a national championship for themselves and our city,” Lewis said.

"That adult Little League officials failed to thoroughly investigate allegations in a timely manner, and therefore allowed these boys to play throughout the season, even as they continued to advance to the World Series, is reprehensible. To strip Jackie Robinson West of its title nearly six months after securing the win tarnishes the efforts of our children who have dodged bullets, school closings and reductions in their school athletic programs in order to compete and win on the playing field.

I stand with parents, youth, teachers and community members who are outraged by this Black History month smack in the face by people with no regard for the young lives impacted by this. The boys are now being labeled and humiliated as “cheats” and are being made scapegoats due to the folly of grown men.

I remain proud of our students securing their place in history as the first all-African American Little League team to win the coveted Little League national championship. It is not lost on my community that they are named for a sports and civil rights icon that also had to break down barriers of racial hatred, segregation, and the 1 percent’s total disregard for his right to exist as a human being.

Jackie Robinson West should retain its title, be issued an apology, and every player should receive full-ride scholarships for college sponsored by the people who have humiliated these boys, their families and their community.”
Read a statement from U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly.

“The Jackie Robinson West players are extraordinary young men who represented their city with grace and whose triumph over adversity captured the heart of a nation. While the actions of adults may be in question, the character of these kids remains unchallenged and the real story of JRW unchanged. It was always about the kids. Those boys played like champions and their accomplishments should not be overshadowed. They need and deserve our continued love and support.”  

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