Here’s the thing.
I promise I am a Christian. I love God and I try very hard to live by the tenants set forth by Christ.
I have read through the entire Bible and am currently doing it for a second time.
I love doing Bible quizzes and I am even currently participating in a Facebook Bible Challenge.
I love Jesus and I admire Muhammad.
I hope to one day have the peace of mind of Buddha.
My point is that I searched my heart long and hard for an alternative way to define the events that have culminated with the Jackie Robinson West Little League team being stripped of its championship title but nothing else seemed to strike the right note.
So after initially choosing the word "dumbf-ckery" I changed it to "bullsh-t" because it was the best I could do.
Mommy, I’m sorry.
Mother-in-law and father-in-law, I’m sorry.
Husband, feel free to disassociate yourself from me because you shouldn’t be held responsible for anything that I write.
I am admittedly a fair-weather sports fan.
I love football but this is a relatively recent phenomenon. I watched almost every Chicago Bulls game with my father between the years of 1991 and 1998. I root for the Blackhawks and I hope that the Cubs will one day break their 100 year curse. It’s not uncommon to see me sporting New Orleans Saints paraphernalia and I still believe that Michael Jordan is the greatest of all time.
But outside of that, I’m usually not vested in sports.
But last August I made my sixth month old and my four year old sit in front of the television to watch Jackie Robinson West’s team play. On the day of their final game against South Korea, I pulled my oldest son through every exhibit in the Museum of Science and Industry within fifteen minutes just so we could make it home to see them embody a standard of sportsmanship that made myself, Chicagoans and so many other Americans proud.
In a city such as Chicago where the multitude of tales of children doing the right thing are so often masked behind the few children who choose to do the wrong thing, the significance of their performance stretched far beyond sports. It spoke values to the possibility that lies within so many children who the outside world is quick to write off because of assumptions, presumptions and a pervasive knee-jerk willingness to believe the worse.
The children on the Jackie Robinson West team held the hopes of a city squarely on their shoulders and performed under pressure in a way that most adults would have been unable to withstand.
For these reasons and the caliber of athleticism that the team displayed, they deserved to be recognized as the United States Little League Champions long before they officially won the trophy.
When I first read the story of the allegations of against the team, my heart initially sank.
But I was hopeful.
Wishing the claims against the team were untrue, I was optimistic that the boys would remain unscathed because in what world are children held to redress the sins of adults?
As details emerged about blurred residency boundaries and compromised league rules, I shook my head and considered the likely ramifications for the team moving forward.
They will probably be suspended for a few years.
The coach will probably be banned.
But never in a million years did I imagine that those boys would have their title stripped away.
Because again I must ask, when are children ever held responsible for the wrongdoings of adults?
Yet in the spirit of making an example of them and in response to the cries from teams who did not win, the Little League International CEO, Steven Keener, has decided to strip the team of its title. Lowering the proverbial hammer like the mighty hand of God, the message is clear: Rules are to be respected and if they are not, then the punishment will be severe.
Touche, Mr. Keener. Touche.
No one can debate that rules should not be broken. And the league has every right to ensure that those rules are executed to the fullest extent. However, if it chooses to do so in the Puritan way in which it has shown, then it must do so comprehensively and sweepingly, not just to the team that won.
From Omaha, Nebraska to Albuquerque, New Mexico, every single team in the league should have to open their books. It matters not if Little Tommy from Wisconsin lives on an apple farm and doesn’t live in district where there is a Little League team. It matters not if Little Johnny from New York State played on the Westchester team rather than New Rochelle team (where he lived) because they had better fields, sporting equipment and would likely get him seen by high school recruiters. Rules are rules.
Then after scrubbing every team’s books, any discrepancy should be automatically met with equally punitive judgment.
Because the worst message that Little League International could send to the children of Jackie Robinson West is that a strict constructionist interpretation of the rules only applies to them. The worse thing the children of JRW could be left with is the perception that, unlike themselves, other children can't be punished for things that they could not control.
And to the adults associated with the Nevada Mountain Ridge team, the newly-minted 2014 Little League Champions, I challenge you to teach your children a valuable lesson and not accept a title you did not rightfully earn. If sports are to teach children anything it is that you must work as hard as you are willing to play to achieve the awards that you seek. And despite how diligent the children of Mountain Ridge were last year, the fact is that that they did not win.