Commentary: Little Leaguers Pay High Price for Coach's Decision

Commentary: Little Leaguers Pay High Price for Coach's Decision

Decision to game the system costs Black boys their U.S. championship.

Published February 11, 2015

So we decide to disappoint Black boys yet again, eh?

Disappointment is a hard thing to take, and adults should keep disappointment from visiting itself on a boy fresh into his teenage years. But what can any of us do when a Black boy who’s trying to play Little League Baseball has adults in his life who let him down?

No doubt, grown men did let down the youngsters from Chicago-based Jackie Robinson West, a chartered Little League program. According to Little League Baseball, the men behind the program bent rules, grabbing talent from outside their boundaries to bring fame to their program.

Their actions blew up in the men’s hands.

In the end, the men turned one of the coolest sports stories in the summer of 2014 into a nightmare.

Now, the U.S. championship that the boys won has been vacated, stripped from their grasps because men wanted to win more than the boys. Busted by a rival Chicago-area league, the men recruited talent secretly from falsified boundaries, a strategy that strengthened the Robinson team unfairly.

We could fuss about the delay in making the ruling, why the checks and balances didn’t sort this out sooner. We would have a right to be angry about that, too. Our anger, if what we hear is the gospel truth, shouldn’t be directed at Little League Baseball, which is scrupulous about the holiness of its rules, but at the men.

We have seen these excesses before in youth sports, the willingness to break the rules for what some mistakenly call a greater good. In their minds, the greater good in sports is always a championship, as if nothing else matters.

Yet understanding loss has value as well. Black boys, as accustomed to loss as they are, need to realize it. They were just trying to play baseball, trying to revive the glorious game that the late Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige, Buck O’Neil and others of color had made the centerpiece of Black communities.

They did that. These Black boys of summer, 12- and 13-year-olds, had the sports world abuzz. Even the casual sports fan knew about their league and about Mo’ne Davis, the athletic girl from Philadelphia whose fastball rivaled any boy’s.

Now, all the baseball buzz about them has given way to scandal, the sort of wrongs we should try to shield our Black boys from.

But scandal happens when people see winning as bigger than the quest, ignoring that the journey is often as rewarding as the ending. Second best, often, demands as much discipline and pluck and work ethic as finishing first does.

No one is suggesting that boys – Black or white or Hispanic – should believe that chasing the highest prize has no value, because that would teach boys the wrong lessons.

The right lesson here is to play within the rules, and should the outcome go against you, you still win: You can look with pride with the fact that you did give it your best, which all you can give.  

Little League officials have suspended the team’s coach; they made the right decision there. They also talked about having no option; they didn’t have any either.

What their decision does, though, is scar the Black boys from Chicago forever. They will carry that scar into old ages, long after the men who crafted this cheat have died.

We can hope the Black boys will forget; we might hope that we can forgive. Deep down, in even or most compassionate moment, we know that neither of those is possible.

The Black boys won’t forget the disappointment, and none of us can forgive the reason for it.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: Charles Rex Arbogast, File/AP Photo)

Written by Justice B. Hill

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