Split Feelings About the Punishment for Jackie Robinson West

When Jackie Robinson West, a Little League team from the Southside, captured the hearts of Chicagoans & the nation with their National Championship this past Summer, many — including myself — hailed the kids as heros. For those of you not from here, the Southside doesn’t get a significant amount of positive media attention; outside of White Sox news, most reports originating south of Roosevelt contain the phrases “gang-related” and/or “shooting death”.

Needless to say, it was more than just refreshing to hear of some good coming from the side of town most Chicagoans prefer to ignore.

Then, came the allegations of impropriety. The charge that higher-ups from JRW skirted residency requirements to include players that would have otherwise gone to other teams. Little League officials investigated, twice, and both times came up with nothing. But, just this week, reported “new evidence” came to light, and the LL organization came to the conclusion that the only recourse was to strip JRW of its US title, and all trophies won in 2014.

When I first heard the news, like many of you, I felt a sense of outrage. Not directed towards Little League International, mind you — but at the coaches and managers of Jackie Robinson West, for putting these children in this predicament in the first place. And, my initial reactions went to the classic defense: it’s not fair.

It’s not fair to punish children because of the actions of adults. Kids that age don’t, generally, have a good sense of things like residential boundary guidelines; and, even if they somehow did, wouldn’t be in much of a position to protest — lest they spend the remainder of their time with JRW as benchwarmers (and, worse; narcs).

Then, the cynical side of me — borne from nearly 33 years on this earth — rears its “realistic” head.  Sure, the Little League’s decision might not be fair to the children of JRW; but, as many of us how come to learn, life isn’t fair. Cheaters should be punished, even if they are unwitting participants in the offense. And, JRW’s residency faux pas wasn’t fair to the teams they faced, and defeated, either. So why should they be rewarded for “stretching” the rules of fair play?

Through my pessimism, though, comes this revelation: the kids of Jackie Robinson West don’t need Little League officials to remind them that life isn’t fair; they’re already well-aware of this fact. Statistically-speaking, many of these kids won’t graduate high school; most won’t attend college (and some, unfortunately, won’t live long enough to have the chance). We’re not talking about some uber-privileged youths from Naperville — with two-parent homes and college funds and all the opportunities in the world; we’re talking about kids from Chicago’s Southside.

Now, I’m not suggesting that this National Championship is, in any way, is the only positive thing that the players of JRW will ever have in their young lives. That would be an absurd (and, honestly, borderline-racist) thought.

It is sad, though, that these kids, already familiar with the reality of the world around them, will now be forced to deal with another of life’s certainties as well — the one that affirms that life isn’t fair; and that adults, even those trusted with your care, don’t always know best.