During the past week, we have heard the story about how the national organization, Little League Baseball, has stripped the 2014 championship from the Chicago area team, Jackie Robinson West, and has suspended its coach for violating a rule that prohibits using players who live outside the geographic area that the team is representing. The team was told that it must forfeit all of its wins from the national tournament. This occurred because it was discovered that team officials had used a fake boundary map to claim top players from neighboring areas to build a superior team. Consequently, the US championship has been awarded to the team from Las Vegas that was defeated in the finals.
According to Little League CEO, Stephen Keener, “We had no choice. We had to maintain the integrity of the Little League program. As painful as this is, it’s a necessary outcome from what we finally have been able to confirm. The real troubling part of this is that we feel horribly for the kids who are involved with this. To the best of our knowledge, they had no knowledge that they were doing anything wrong. There were just kids out playing baseball… This is not an issue that is rampant among Little League programs. This is an isolated case. We’ve only had to take this type of actions three times in our program’s 75 year history.”
As I see it, there are several issues to be addressed here. First, and most importantly, Keener is correct, the young men who were playing baseball were doing nothing wrong. They were just playing games in tournaments. They were on a team that had tremendous success winning games that took them all the way to the Little League World Series, where they lost in the finals to a team from South Korea. They got a lot of national attention along the way, especially because they were a team of African-American young men. Over the past decade, much has been discussed about the fact that there are fewer African-American young men playing baseball because of several issues including a lack of facilities. These young men were not only acknowledged for their success, but also for their expressions of sportsmanship along their journey. They were just a bunch of kids playing baseball and having fun.
I have written several newsletters over the past few years about sportsmanship and the variety of problems associated with it. The second issue I’d like to address pertains to the coach and league administrators with this team. The Little League World Series has become a big event. It is nationally televised and has become highly commercialized. Much has been written about many of the athletes and their families. Mo’ne Davis, a 13 year old girl who helped her team reach the World Series, has received overwhelming publicity. In 2001, it was revealed that Danny Almonte, the star of a team from New York had been playing with a fake birth certificate, and his team was forced to forfeit their third place finish. The desire to win, to be interviewed on tv, radio and social media, and to be acknowledged as the coach of a championship team playing on the national stage has put pressure on many of these coaches and administrators to cheat. The fact that the adults leaders on this team knowingly did what they did, can only be explained that they wanted to win so badly, they would do whatever it took, even if it meant breaking the rules. Keener’s statement that, “This is an isolated case.” is in my opinion a great example of keeping his head in the sand. Cheating goes on at every level of sport, because of “The need to win”. If he thinks this has only happened three times in 75 years, he is not dealing with the reality of what youth sports has become over the past 25 years.
And that takes me to my final point. Why did the Little League organization wait until February 2015 to determine that this team was using ineligible players? The championship was in August of last year. That was 5 months ago!! If the Little League national organization really wants to police and administrate its leagues and teams, I think it should have a better policy in place to check out the credentials of the players and coaches involved before they play in these tournaments. It shouldn’t have taken 5 months to figure out these players were living outside the boundaries of the team. Keener mentions that the kids who played were doing nothing wrong. He’s correct, they were just playing baseball. Now, they have a bigger lesson to learn. Why do adults cheat? The fun is going out of sports at younger and younger ages because of the selfish needs of adults and their need for notoriety and their need to win and not to play by the rules.
As always, your thoughts…