Chicago was going through its annual summer of violence. Riots and protests were breaking out in Ferguson, Missouri and other cities. Politicians, journalist, pundits, and so-called civil rights leaders were seeking answers, justice, stories, and the limelight.
Along comes a Little League Team. Jackie Robinson West. A team made up of African American kids. A team who created a spark in Chicago. A spark that grew into a unifying celebratory bonfire.
A city normally at war with each other rallied around Jackie Robinson West. Rich and poor. Powerful and weak. Friends and enemies. All came together for a short period of time to cheer, shout, hug, and cry.
A city came together for the a proud moment. A small slice of history.
A city nurtured the bonfire. Like druids of old, we danced and celebrated.
When it was over. The last game played. Life went back to normal. The bonfire was put out.
There were still a few burning embers. They smoldered. They fumed. They smoked. Then, combustion. A conflagration.
Jackie Robinson West, the Chicago Little League team that won the hearts of a city, were engulfed in that great fire.
Little League International found Jackie Robinson West violated rules and regulations. They were stripped of their national championship title.
This sordid tale is about adults. Stripping the team of their status does not diminish the accomplishment of these young men. The players made Chicago proud. They were the feel good story of the summer. They played better and with more heart than the Cubs or the Sox. They created more excitement than those so-called professionals.
It was adults who did not follow rules. Adults manipulated regulations. Adults complained and kept complaining. Adults evaluated the situation and made the ruling.
Adults, as usual, let the kids down.
Adults crashed and burned hopes and dreams that came true.
Adults are the reason kids can't achieve and have nice things.
Some are playing the evil race card over this issue. These are adults seeking a few more minutes of fame.
Let us be clear. This is not about race. It is about rules. Rules that apply to all. It is about those who manipulate those rules and those who caught them.
The players did their part. They played hard. They won games. They exhibited all the qualities of sportsmanship.
The adults, not so much. They cheated. They were sore losers. They were the overseers of the rules and regulations.
The real heartbreak is for the young men who won games. They had nothing to do with the rule violations. They just wanted to play baseball. They wanted to win.
They are no different than generations of young people who came before them.
The kids were cheated by adults. Adults they looked up to. Adults who coached, managed, and mentored them.
Chicago was also cheated. We poured our hearts out for these fine young men. We cheered, we bit our nails, we fretted, and we celebrated their achievement and accomplishment.
If there is a lesson here for kids, it is do not grow up to be like adults who disappoint. Grow up to be adults who encourage and succeed.
The players of Jackie Robinson West have nothing to be ashamed of. They could still hold their heads high. They are still Chicago's championship team.
The adults have some explaining to do.
Tribune columnist, Steve Rosenbloom had the best take:
"Starting with Butler and Kelly, JRW officials ought to be forced to stand in front of the kids and admit the cheating, explain why they set such a bad example, and offer an apology. That should be televised, too." (Chicago Tribune)
Then, there is Tribune columnist Rex Huppke's take:
"You don’t cheat and win. The wide-eyed, grinning little guys this city and the rest of the country fell in love with late last summer deserve to know the truth. They deserve to know that all the amazing things they went through — the wins, the parade from the South Side to downtown, the trip to the White House — are now tainted thanks to the unconscionable actions of grown-up morons." (Chicago Tribune)
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