Last summer during the Little League World Series, the Jackie Robinson West All-Stars captivated the nation by becoming the first team exclusively made up of African American players to win the U.S. championship prior to being defeated by South Korea in the world championship game.
The US Champs were celebrated and honored with a parade in their hometown before being hosted at the White House where they met fellow Chicagoan, President Barack Obama. Unfortunately for the Jackie Robinson West All-Stars, Little League International, the governing body that presides over the Little League World Series, did what no opponent was capable of doing when they defeated this group of young males by vacating their accomplishments in one swoop.
After a lengthy investigation, Little League International found that Jackie Robinson West Head Coach Darold Butler and President Bill Haley, along with parents conspired to include players who did not reside in the team’s Washington Height’s neighborhood on their roster; such actions are a clear violation of Little League rules that mandate players either reside or attend school within specified areas. Little League International considers it unacceptable for a parent or legal guardian to establish residency to increase a team’s chances of qualifying for tournament play. This is a tough, yet necessary lesson, for these young men.
Youth sports has historically been a means for millions of children across the globe to have fun while in the midst of developing a healthy lifestyle. Athletics are a fertile ground to instill character, perseverance, mental toughness, teamwork, resilience, hard work, dedication, and loyalty; each of these qualities are integral to a lifetime of success and prosperity. Unethical behavior is most certainly not an ingredient in future success.
Although these children had no part in the “adults” unethical decisions, there is still much for them to learn from this most unfortunate matter. Most notable of these lessons is the reality that the pursuit of victory should never eclipse core values such as dignity and decency.
I must note that there has been a groundswell regarding the unfairness of Little League International’s decision to strip the Jackie Robinson West team of all of their accomplishments; many cite that teams routinely cheat in pursuit of some advantage. I disagree with such sentiment. These young men must learn that if you break the rules, you will be punished. It is inconsequential if others are behaving dishonestly; all that matters are your actions and activities.
In the end, the young men of Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West baseball team have most definitely learned a valuable lesson. That integrity and honor are prerequisites to achievement. In the end, the only thing a man has is his word, and once that is gone, you have nothing.