Jackie Robinson West stripped of title: What I hope the boys understand

So, it was too good to be true. Scrappy team from the South Side, with the support of parents, coaches, neighborhoods, and eventually the whole city, wins the national Little League title. And then goes to the Little League World Series and plays with heart and good sportsmanship, loses big, but ends up goofing around with their victorious opponents afterwards, because that’s what kids do. Parades and rallies followed for wide-eyed boys who had been so busy playing ball that until that day they hadn’t understood how many of us were so proud of them.

What a story, and how we loved it. There were lessons about hard work, teamwork, parental involvement, and community support.

Is it all ruined now that we’ve learned that some of those adults ignored boundaries and sneaked players onto the team who lived elsewhere? Had, in a word, cheated?

Yes, in some ways – they’ve been stripped of the championship. Cynics are coming out of the woodwork to declare that the Chicago Way won again.

But no, in other ways – here’s what I hope the kids on that team understand –

that they can survive a crisis like this by learning its lessons

that the affection and excitement they inspired were real

that cheating backfires on the cheaters, often

that people disappoint you, I mean really disappoint you

that you can still hold your head up for your own good work

 

Let’s not throw the boys out with the bathwater. They did their part, admirably, and we can still be proud of them for that. Nobody gets to call them champions anymore, but we can tell them that if they work just as hard in life as they did on the field, it will pay off.

Nobody gets to tell them this decision wasn’t fair, that people are against them, or that they are victims of anyone except the adults who cheated.  The decision to take away the championship was just, because the acts of those few adults were unjust. Why should the earnest boys be punished too? Because that's how life works.

A story too good to be true, maybe, but there is something to hang on to – it turned out to be a story not just about sports and teamwork, but about integrity, an even bigger and more useful lesson in the long run, if we will just let them learn it.

 

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