Local reactions to the loss of the Little League national title by the Jackie Robinson West team have ranged from the reasonable to the regrettable or worse, but local leaders have made the situation worse.
A Little League investigation, as has been widely reported, determined that the team had falsified its boundaries to add players, used this map for the 2014 tournament, and conspired with surrounding leagues in support of this effort. As a result, it suspended the team manager, removed league officials, and gave the title to a Las Vegas team.
Some have suggested that racism motivated the investigation of this team, which was the first all African American team to win the national championship.
Saint Sabina pastor Michael Pfleger called it a “witch hunt,” and he and others, such as Rainbow Push Coalition Founder and President Jesse Jackson, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, and Illinois State Representative Monique Davis have called for the return of the title and even threatened lawsuits.
Some argue that these rules have been unevenly enforced, but Little League International has reportedly revoked the titles of other teams, including a team from the Philippines in 1992, a team from the Bronx in 2001, and a Georgia team this past season. Even those who suggest that these rules represent discriminatory policies and perspectives in the way, for example, zip codes index economic and other social conditions misrepresent this situation.
Although race is part of this story, it is a much more complicated contributing factor than any of these local leaders suggest. Regardless of whether the Little League can use better ways of distributing players and talent, the central issue is not race or privilege but integrity. This team cheated, no matter how reasonable or informed the rules might be, and the Little League organization did what it had to do.
While the effects upon players is unfortunate, the messages from local leaders are that consequences can be avoided and that cheating is acceptable. Moreover, they’re squandering scarce resources when they suggest that the existing rules shouldn’t apply to JRW because they provided an important summer story or because it consists of ethnic minorities. Rather, they’d be using their power better if they advocated accountability, tempered of course with compassion.
They could also remind us that sports are means and that one function is to practice integrity, and then they could return to leading their communities, which they’re more qualified, and where they have important work, to do.