This week Little League International stripped my hometown champions of their title and crushed an entire city. For a short time, we had a magical sport moment only to have it disappear for a shocking reason.
As a baseball fan, I’ve always peeked in on the Little League World Series. If I was home I would catch a few innings on ESPN. The fact that a team from Chicago’s West Side was heading to the Little League World Series threw me into full Little League World Series fever. Thousands of Chicagoans joined me in watching the games, swarming a local sports store for t-shirts that would both support the team’s families in their travels and allow for public displays of pride, finally culminating in an epic victory parade and rally downtown. All for a group of 12- and 13-year-old boys.
Chicago is a sports town. We love our teams and we cherish our winners, my Chicago Cubs notwithstanding. The Jackie Robinson West team had it made. There were heralded as heroes. My family and I sat near them at a WNBA Championship game. As soon as they entered the arena it was electric. People stood to applaud the boys. Fans, myself included, wanted to reach out and touch the magic. The crowd turned into paparazzi surrounding the boys with camera phones. I gave the coach a high five.
In this post-Trayvon Martin world, we know how fragile the lives of young black boys and men can be. How amazing it was to witness a city rally around these kids when we rarely bat an eye when one is shot and killed? We applauded their respectability. They were good boys.
Now, the adults in charge of this team are labeled as cheaters, stealing a shining moment from a team that’s still made up of good boys. But there’s no respectability in the word “cheater.” For years Chicagoans will debate if this means the boys are or aren’t champs, just as we continue to debate the guilt of Shoeless Joe Jackson almost a century after the 1919 World Series.
And yet, confetti can still be found on the snowy streets of Boston as they celebrated another Super Bowl win by the New England Patriots. Deflategate was merely another moment in what many NFL fans believe is a dynasty built on cheating. Recently Hall of Famer Jerry Rice admitted to cheating during his career and claimed that everyone did it. Maybe the Jackie Robinson West players can call up Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who also had a national championship stripped from him from when he was coaching USC. Yet we will not hesitate to call any of these professional athletes champs for years to come. Grown adults who knowingly cheated or broke rules will get to keep their gaudy rings and endorsement deals. What of the Jackie Robinson West boys?
They get to learn that it is only cheating if you get caught. As we attempt to find the silver lining and lesson in this messy incident, let’s not forget what we teach our children about cheating in sports, about winning at all costs and pride on the field. Maybe Little League International can loan out their investigative team to the NFL? Seems that Roger Gooddell can use them.
Veronica Arreola writes the blog Viva la Feminista, where she tries to navigate and understand the intersection between feminism, motherhood and her Latinadad. You can follow her on Twitter @veronicaeye.
To contact Veronica for an interview or to book her as a speaker, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.