Like many across the land, the stripping of all championship titles from the Jackie Robinson West Little League All-Star Team by Little League International Charter/Tournament Committee has been a saddening reality, especially for the boys who worked hard and faithfully to reach the great achievement of champions. Like the Honorable Mayor Rahm Emmanuel stated, “Every home run was real. Every great catch was real. The passion they brought from Chicago to Williamsport was real. And the character they showed on and off the field was real.” The honor of the adults involved was not real!
Mr. Stephen D. Keener, Little League International President and CEO, called the decision “heartbreaking.” “What these players accomplished on the field and the memories and lessons they have learned during the Little League World Series tournament is something the kids can be proud of, but it is unfortunate that the actions of adults have led to this outcome.” The official Little League International statement was in part, “the Jackie Robinson West Little League and Illinois District 4 Administrator knowingly violated Little League International Rules and Regulations by placing players on their team who did not qualify to play because they lived outside the team’s boundaries.”
Unfortunately, the losers in this matter are the boys who struggled to overcome adversity, worked hard with dedication and focus, maintained their grades and character throughout the process, and were honored and hailed as champions, only to now be stripped of the championship.
Why? Because of overzealous adults. Breaking the rules don’t matter, just win. Character issues don’t matter, just win. The results justify the means, just win. Getting caught doesn’t matter, just win. Work the boys to prove their athleticism, forget values or principles, just win!
The real prize for children and youth that are engaged in little league sports on into high school and beyond should not be winning at any cost. Teamwork, sportsmanship, character, relationships, and hard work should be the aim of every activity, game, or championship series. Winning has to be defined in such a way that everyone, especially the youth, will be able to take away from the experience something that will be educational, character building and lasting for a lifetime.
Out of focus ‘win at all costs’ attitudes in the little leagues lead to immoral, amoral, out of focus attitudes that are displayed too often in college and professional sports leagues, with little if any thought to how the game is played or how character affects each player. This is unwise and creates a superficial goodness or image in the sport and lives of the players and coaches.
Local communities, parents, and league officials should demand the best of everyone involved. Parents should facilitate honest representation of themselves and their children. And while Chicago and surrounding communities are seeking to reach a balance in this unfortunate situation, the boys matter most! But irresponsible parties should be held accountable for not playing within the rules, not only by Little League International, but the local communities as well.
Rules, policies, or guidelines matter. Accountability does matter. Character and personal dignity, they matter. The process and how it develops, they matter. And the outcome, the end of it all, winning does matter. The reality of a job well-done cannot be challenged or stripped from winners when character drives one from within.
The adults in this case should know better. The youth, hopefully, will learn the valuable lesson of how much character does matter. And it matters also to maintain the honor of champion. The title without the honor within is empty.