By Tequia Burt
Getting up yesterday morning to see the Jackie Robinson West team stripped of its U.S. Little League Championship title was like a knife to the heart.
Like millions of Chicagoans, I cheered them on and rooted for our South Side team to go all the way. Even though the boys did not win the world title, to people across the city they still were our champs. Our boys were the first African-American team to win a Little League Championship.
And we all needed it—the black community, in particular, needed it. They won the title during a time of great pain, when black boys felt like their lives didn’t matter. They filled our terror-filled psyches with hope. We took a collective breath—our sons can be role models; they aren’t just criminals in hoodies stealing cigarillos. Then this happened.
And now they’re cheaters. Because, according to Little League International CEO Stephen Keener, at least two kids lived outside sanctioned boundaries.
Instead of being heroes, now they’re a “superteam,” fitting neatly into the narrative of black males as brutes imbued with superhuman strength. Innocence has been lost.
WHAT ABOUT THE NFL?
At a time when Deflategate is happening and MLB players admit to doping, these children are being told that they are learning a good lesson: Cheaters never win. In reality, the lesson they are learning is that cheaters don’t win unless they are powerful. Black boys are not powerful. And I’m pretty sure they are well aware that mistakes can cost them.
These children are being held to stricter standards than the NFL holds its teams and players: Even though 11 of 12 footballs the Patriots used in the AFC Championship were deflated, even though they are widely thought of as cheaters,the team went on to win the Super Bowl. No one is threatening to vacate their title.
While the adults in the Little League scandal have been appropriately punished, it still doesn’t change the fact that these children are being reprimanded for being successful. They were failed by their coaches, by the Little League organization and, even, by some parents. Yet they are the ones paying the ultimate price.
The Little League did not make the right decision by stripping JRW of its championship title. There are reports that Little League International knew that multiple Little League teams in the area violate boundary rules as a matter of course, including the Evergreen Park league, whose coach worked hard to get JRW stripped of its title.
If the rules were so important, why did the organization only begin the investigation after JRW won and someone complained and a reporter forced the issue? Eligibility should have been established long before any team played in the finals. If rules really mattered, this level of scrutiny should be placed on all the teams all over the country—from the get-go. The organization’s framework for evaluating residency is clearly flawed since JRW previously was cleared of wrongdoing.
The children should not be the ones made to suffer the consequences. Black boys are so often made into the bogeyman; let them be heroes for once.
So now it’s time to express our support, Chicago. We have to let these children know that they aren’t the ones to blame even though they’re being penalized. Let’s show the children in JRW that they’re still champs.
Originally published in Crain’s Chicago Business Feb. 12, 2015