When I first heard the news I was sitting in math class. I had just finished a grueling and stressful quiz. I opened my phone and checked the updates. At the top sat an update from ESPN. “Breaking:” it read, “Little League Baseball strips US title from Chicago area team for using players outside of geographic area.”
I sat there for second and grappled with the news. It wasn’t long before I had to leave class. As I maneuvered through the hallways, I saw a friend, and we briefly talked about it, but for no more than a couple minutes. After that, it was pushed out of my thoughts.
I went through two more classes of work and a period of lunch. Next, I climbed on the trolley and subway, finding myself at the Philadelphia Inquirer for my internship. When I walked into the gigantic room of journalists, I went directly to the desk of my mentor, Mr. John Quinn.
“Did you hear?” He asked me.
“About the Jackie Robinson Little League team?”
“Yeah. Are you guys happy?” He questioned. By “you guys,” he was referring to my connection with the Little League World Series participant, the Taney Dragons. My brother, Eli Simon, had been a part of the team
“Happy?” I asked. Happy? This triggered many thoughts. Honestly, at the time, I hadn’t done much research. I knew the outlining information. The United States Little League champion, Jackie Robinson West Little League, would have their title taken. They had supposedly extended their boundaries against rules to bring in star players. Other than that, I was quite ignorant of the situation.
But I did know I wasn’t happy. Yeah I guess Taney was now technically the second best little league team in the nation, but was I happy? They had still lost to Chicago. They still didn’t win. Regardless of the fact of where the players lived, the team had beat every team fair and square. They were just a bunch of 12 and 13 year olds playing baseball.
Thinking about it more made me slightly sick. These coaches and officials had used these kids to get what they wanted. Now, for the majority of their life, they won’t be able to say with pride, “Yes, I played for Jackie Robinson West Little League in the 2014 Little League World Series.” Now, that saying will have negative connotations, instead of the positive ones it should have. Now those kids will be known as “the cheaters from Chicago”, not “the baseball players from Chicago.” Now, a moment of happiness and success has been tainted. And its not their fault. Its the adults’ fault whom knowingly tip toed around the rules and carried a group of kids with them.
After Mr. Quinn sent me back to my computer to type this piece, I did more research. For 45 minutes, I read articles, listened to reactions, and grasped a better sense of the predicament.
Unfortunate? Yeah, I guess.
Deserved? Yeah, I guess.
Extreme? For sure.
The team did cheat. The organization. Even the district. They slid past the rules and knowingly invited players to the team who did not live in their boundary. So should the kids get to keep their banner?
I don’t think there is any doubt that the kids should get to keep their wins and championship. They played hard and they fought to deserve every last win that they had during the summer. I think that there are other ways to punish the team. Ban the coach. Suspend the organization. But at least let the kids keep the title they played for: champions.
The whole investigation reminds me of the Reggie Bush scandal that began nearly 8 years ago. The superstar running back at the University of Southern California reportedly received many gifts from an agent, which was against the rules. Wins were vacated and Bush was pressured to give back his Heisman trophy he had won years before. I always felt strongly that Bush should not have had to give the award back. Regardless of the fact that he had been given many presents, he had earned and worked for every last yard he ran or caught that year. And it wasn’t like he was enhancing his performance via drugs. He was just playing football. That trophy is given to the best player in the country, and Bush was the most successful.
The fact is that Jackie Robinson West did cheat–but not during the game itself. The kids still scored all of those runs. They still struck out all of those batters. And they still stole all of those bases. People can ask themselves “what if”, but the bottom line is JRW was the champion team. They were and are the best little league team in America.