As they were stripping the Jackie Robinson West team of its national championship, Little League International officials wanted everyone to know certain things, primarily about themselves. They had no choice; they cared deeply about the integrity of the program; they feel “horribly.”
To be blunt, we don’t really care how they feel. The fact is they punished a group of children who did everything right — for the sins of adults and an organization that was willfully oblivious.
Concluding that officials of the Chicago-area league had redrawn its boundaries, without consulting nearby leagues, in order to draw good players, Little League International stripped the team Wednesday of the U.S. title it won last August and disciplined some officials. There was no suggestion of wrongdoing by the players or their families.
Jackie Robinson West was the first team of African-American youth to win a national championship. Its 11- and 12-year-old players, some from struggling neighborhoods, not only cheered a city challenged by violence but charmed the country with their stellar play and outstanding sportsmanship. Chicago held a rally in their honor, and the White House invited them for a visit. In the wake of Wednesday’s announcement, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and White House spokesman Josh Earnest expressed the similar view that no official action could detract from the achievements of these boys.
As much as we agree with that sentiment, we have to question whether it was necessary to demean these boys in this way. Why didn’t Little League learn from earlier incidents in which player eligibility was an issue? Shouldn’t an organization that has parlayed the success of its young players into a lucrative television contract invest money in protocols to enforce its rules? Given information that was in the press and online about the suburban roots of some of these players before the team won the title, why was an investigation started only after a rival coach complained?
The pious statements from Little League International may make the officials feel better, but they would have done better to look at getting their own house in order. Punishing children who played their hearts out is probably not the best way to attract new players — and certainly not the way to honor the game.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE WASHINGTON POST