On Wednesday, Little League baseball stripped Jackie Robinson West All-Stars of its national title over allegations that team officials falsified a boundary map in order to recruit talented players.
As much as I regret the outcome of Little League baseball’s investigation into allegations that Jackie Robinson West skirted eligibility rules, I regret even more the wreckage this scandal will leave behind.
In the end, it won’t be Little League officials who will suffer the most damage. These volunteers will go back to their careers and move on with their lives.
It will be the 13 young African-American boys who just wanted to excel in a sport that was all but dead in the black community.
And it will be the mothers and fathers who instilled the character that we saw in the championship team.
This positive story unfolded at a time when Chicagoans desperately needed a respite from the daily dose of mayhem and carnage that has come to be associated with urban youth.
To see the story unravel now is like taking a punch in the gut.
Worse yet, the punishment doesn’t seem to fit the crime, and is a reminder that throughout history — no matter what the offense — African-Americans seem to endure the harshest penalties.
The decision to suspend JRW Coach Darold Butler, to remove Michael Kelly from his administrative position, to ban William Haley — the son of JRW’s founder, Joe Haley, and his widow, Ann Haley, as well as to strip JRW of its title, fits a pattern that many African-Americans have seen all their lives.
“The punishment meted out to this community was just too harsh,” said the Rev. Jesse Jackson at a news conference held at the Rainbow Push Coalition’s headquarters on the South Side.
If JRW officials knowingly violated league rules, they deserved punishment.
But the JRW players did nothing wrong, and displayed exceptional sportsmanship and skill throughout the tournament.
The negative impact this decision would have on them should have prompted officials to make a more compassionate decision.
Venisa Green, the mother of JRW pitcher Brandon Green, attended the news conference and responded to the attacks on the team’s integrity:
“We worked hard . . . to keep Brandon out of the prison pipeline in the city of Chicago. . . . What would you rather happen, Little League [officials], for them to be killed on the streets of Chicago?” she asked.
“It is amazing to me, whenever African-Americans exceed the expectations, there is always going to be fault that is going to be found in what it is that we do,” she said.
“Little League says that they teach character and they teach courage. Well, this isn’t an act of courage and this sure isn’t an act of character,” she added.
Many of the people who emailed me to say they believe JRW got what it deserved pointed out that this is a matter of fairness.
That sounds great.
But where is the concern about fairness when it comes to the inferior schools that too many black and brown children are forced to attend?
Where is the concern when blacks are disproportionately locked up in prison for crimes they did not commit?
Where is the concern when blacks are racially profiled, and when they are discriminated against in housing and on worksites?
While other areas have an abundance of options when it comes to positive programs, parents living in certain zip codes have to scrounge for programs that keep their children off the street.
I’m deeply saddened by the way Little League baseball handled the accusations against JRW, because the organization has not only tarnished the officials who were accused, but the children and the families who were not.