Chicago-based Jackie Robinson West Little League team was riding a crest of success this month, including a photo op with President Barack Obama, when it came crashing down in a very messy cheating scandal. The team was accused of effectively stacking the team with ringers from outside of their district — a serious infraction for such teams. The first all-African-American team to win the U.S. championship was stripped of its honor in favor of Mountain Ridge Little League from Las Vegas. In the meantime, there is a suggestion from at least one Chicago leader that the action against the team is racist.
After the championship, the league officials were told of the allegations for the first time despite the fact that the team managers were aware of the violations. Team manager, Darold Butler, has been suspended from Little League activity and Illinois District 4 Administrator Michael Kelly has been removed from his position. The League found that the team used a falsified boundary map and that there was a conscious effort to stack the team with top ineligible players. No Bill Belichick is not the part-time coach.
Jackie Robinson West lost to Seoul, South Korea after beating Las Vegas 7-5 in the U.S. title game.
National league officials were reportedly shocked when, in January, local officials admitted that they knew of the violations. The rules are quite clear. Indeed, in 1992, a title was stripped from a team from Zamboanga, Philippines Zamboanga used several players that lived outside its district or were over-age. Likewise, in 2001, a third-place team from the Bronx, N.Y., was stripped for using ineligible players though that was due to an age disqualification.
These types of violations always raise an interesting question of liability. The actions of these officials, rather than the players, are at issue. Their knowing violation of the rules not only led to the heartbreaking stripping of these kids of their title, but make the real winner in Las Vegas feel like they are merely default victors. It also negated past expensive trips and games where hundreds of players and parents worked for championship titles. The league itself has a defense in relying on the good-faith of local officials. However, the local officials cost the league and various families dearly in their effort to rig the competition. Those officials in some ways got off lightly in simple suspensions as opposed to facing the financial and emotional costs of the violations.
In the meantime, Jesse Jackson and his Rainbow Push Coalition has denounced the action as unduly harsh. It is unclear how Jackson believes the team should be allowed to remain champions after winning with ineligible players. How is that far to the Las Vegas team and other teams?
Yet, Rev. Michael Pfleger takes it further in stating “I can’t help but question whether the same thing would have been done with another team from another place — another race.” The answer appears to be yes. The league has taken such action in the past with non-African American teams.