Rev. Jesse Jackson said Wednesday he is planning to celebrate Jackie Robinson West at a “Reaffirmation of Championship” celebration on Saturday.
The event will be held at 9:30 a.m. at Rainbow PUSH Coalition, 930 E. 50th St.
”I was upset to the point of tears this morning,” Jackson said, adding that he already had spoken to some of the parents of the players and was distressed to learn they had heard the news through the media.
Their children already have been harassed over the controversy, Jackson said, and “it’s not like the children are cheating.”
Boundary and residence issues — when parents have dealt with housing difficulties and are trying to find decent schools for their children — can’t really be compared to other cheating, such as lying about their ages.
“There’s nothing these kids have done to have their championship erased,” Jackson said. “I hope the Las Vegas team will have the strength of character not to accept.”
While the actions of the Las Vegas team may be in doubt, the feelings of Mayor Rahm Emanuel were not.
Of all of the state and local politicians basking in the glow of JRW’s Cinderella run, nobody did more of it than the mayor.
And on Wednesday, he echoed Jackson’s sentiments, and reaffirmed that the children who did nothing wrong are still winners in his eyes.
Emanuel had held watch parties for JRW’s games at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., organized a rally for the exhausted team when they returned home and arranged for the massive parade from the South Side to a rally at Millennium Park to celebrate the U.S. title.
The mayor also mentioned Chicago’s boys of summer in virtually every speech he gave in an attempt to rebuild his standing with African-American voters who helped put him in office — voters who had soured on the mayor after he closed 50 public schools — a record number. He also featured them at a City Council meeting.
After JRW’s title was stripped Wednesday, Emanuel issued a carefully-worded statement that tried hard not to diminish, either the boys’ athletic achievement or the political benefit that the mayor got from it.
“These remarkable boys brought our entire city together and reminded all Chicagoans how important it is to support our children. They created memories that will last a lifetime and nothing will take that away. They showed the nation their character both on and off the field,” he said.
“The city remains united in its support of these great children and in our hearts, they will always be champions in Chicago.”
Far South Side Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), who coaches Little League and high school baseball, said the decision to strip JRW of the U.S. title that was the feel-good story of the year in Chicago is “very unfortunate,” but probably unavoidable.
“The kids did nothing wrong. They went out there and played fabulously. They had no idea what the adults did. There should have been some type of penalty for the adults. The adults are the ones who needed to be penalized — not the kids. Unfortunately, there’s no way to do that without taking away the title. That hurts the kids. You never want to hurt the kids,” Beale said.
“That was an amazing group of kids. You can’t take away the experience and everything they’ve accomplished. They lived the dream. They met the President. They went to the [Major League] World Series and to Disney World. It’s just unfortunate that, here we are once again. The acts of adults are hurting the kids. Hopefully, people will learn from this less and we never have to go down this road.”
And what is the lesson from all this?
“There’s no quick solution to success. Hard work pays off. You can’t cut corners and expect to get away with it,” Beale said.
Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., also weighed in to express her dismay.
“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,” Kelly said in a statement issued by her office. “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.”
Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis went further, demanding that the title be returned and noting bitterly that the decision was handed down during Black History Month.
“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 in a statement issued Wednesday afternoon.
“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.”
She added: “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.”
Contributing: Fran Spielman