Is race protecting Jackie Robinson West Little Leaguers from ringer allegations?

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Is race protecting Jackie Robinson West Little Leaguers from ringer allegations?

By John Ruberry

This sum­mer a won­der­ful story emerged from the South Side of Chicago, a part of the city which has gained inter­na­tional infamy for vio­lence. The story was almost per­fect. The Lit­tle League team from Jackie Robin­son West Park, con­sist­ing entirely of African-​Americans, became the Lit­tle League cham­pi­ons of the United States. They were runner-​ups in the Lit­tle League World Series, falling to a South Korean team.

Baseball’s pop­u­lar­ity among young blacks has been slip­ping since the 1970s. After a peak of 19 per­cent in 1986, the per­cent­age of African-​Americans play­ing Major League Base­ball has dropped to 8 per­cent. The decline of orga­nized inner-​city youth base­ball is cer­tainly a fac­tor in this ath­letic demo­graphic shift.

Oh, one of the play­ers for JRW, 12 year-​old Jaheim Ben­ton, was home­less. But after the Lit­tle League World Series, a donor gave his fam­ily a rent-​free home for a year. The city held a vic­tory parade for the team fol­lowed by a rally where Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov­er­nor Pat Quinn lauded their tri­umph. Jackie Robin­son West met with Pres­i­dent Obama at the White House. Chicago Mag­a­zine named JRW its Chicagoans of the Year.

On the their way to the Series, Jackie Robin­son West crushed the local oppo­si­tion, includ­ing a 432 stomp­ing of the team from Ever­green Park, a pre­dom­i­nantly white sub­urb near the ter­ri­tory of JRW.

But last week DNAinfo Chicago, in a detailed arti­cle, reported on the alle­ga­tions from, Chris Janes, an offi­cial of the Ever­green Park team, that some of the JRW play­ers didn’t live within the des­ig­nated bound­aries of its Lit­tle League ter­ri­tory. Bill Haley, the pres­i­dent of Jackie Robin­son West, denies the allegations.

The evi­dence that Janes right is quite strong. US Rep. Robin Kelly Tweeted that three mem­bers of JRW lived in the sub­ur­ban part of her Chicago area dis­trict. In its “Faces in the Crowd” fea­ture, Sports Illus­trated reported on another player who resided in the sub­urb of Home­wood. Two other sub­urbs boasted of their own ath­lete on Jackie Robin­son West, while other play­ers lived out­side of the JRW ter­ri­tory – but in the city, accord­ing to DNAinfo Chicago.

Lit­tle League Inter­na­tional dis­missed Janes’ charges that JRW was effec­tively a regional all-​star team. Their response is that Jackie Robin­son West pro­vided the nec­es­sary doc­u­men­ta­tion to prove res­i­dency for its play­ers. How­ever, for rea­sons that no one can explain, LLI doesn’t dis­close the bound­aries for each indi­vid­ual league. And some JRW par­ents counter their boys are from split fam­i­lies, with one par­ent resid­ing within the league’s zone. But claim­ing res­i­dency in an area for the sole rea­son of being able to join a team is against LLI’s rules.

Local media has duti­fully reported on Janes’ alle­ga­tions, and JRW’s denial, but they haven’t delved into the the details of DNA Info Chicago’s story.

Per­haps they don’t want to dis­man­tle that almost per­fect story of black kids from a bad neigh­bor­hood becom­ing cham­pi­ons. Or maybe Chicago reporters are afraid of being labelled racist.

[cap­tion id=“attachment_60354” align=“alignright” width=“248”] Ruberry broth­ers, author cen­ter, in their Lit­tle League days[/caption]

But if Jackie Robin­son West did cheat, team offi­cials should be held account­able and the JRW national cham­pi­onship should be revoked.

Lit­tle League is a big busi­ness, LLI has a $60 mil­lion TV con­tract with ESPN that runs through 2022.

Call me old-​fashioned, but youth sports are sup­posed to build char­ac­ter and more. My old­est brother was a Lit­tle League coach in New Eng­land. While his team was being clob­bered dur­ing a game, oppos­ing play­ers taunted his young­sters with deroga­tory chants. My brother objected to the other team’s coach, telling him, “Hey, isn’t this game sup­posed to be edu­ca­tional?” Well if it was that day, some boys were clearly learn­ing the wrong lesson.

Putting ringers on a team is the wrong les­son too.

John Ruberry reg­u­larly blogs at Marathon Pun­dit.

By John Ruberry

This summer a wonderful story emerged from the South Side of Chicago, a part of the city which has gained international infamy for violence. The story was almost perfect. The Little League team from Jackie Robinson West Park, consisting entirely of African-Americans, became the Little League champions of the United States. They were runner-ups in the Little League World Series, falling to a South Korean team.

Baseball’s popularity among young blacks has been slipping since the 1970s. After a peak of 19 percent in 1986, the percentage of African-Americans playing Major League Baseball has dropped to 8 percent. The decline of organized inner-city youth baseball is certainly a factor in this athletic demographic shift.

Oh, one of the players for JRW, 12 year-old Jaheim Benton, was homeless. But after the Little League World Series, a donor gave his family a rent-free home for a year. The city held a victory parade for the team followed by a rally where Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Governor Pat Quinn lauded their triumph. Jackie Robinson West met with President Obama at the White House. Chicago Magazine named JRW its Chicagoans of the Year.

On the their way to the Series, Jackie Robinson West crushed the local opposition, including a 43-2 stomping of the team from Evergreen Park, a predominantly white suburb near the territory of JRW.

But last week DNAinfo Chicago, in a detailed article, reported on the allegations from, Chris Janes, an official of the Evergreen Park team, that some of the JRW players didn’t live within the designated boundaries of its Little League territory. Bill Haley, the president of Jackie Robinson West, denies the allegations.

The evidence that Janes right is quite strong. US Rep. Robin Kelly Tweeted that three members of JRW lived in the suburban part of her Chicago area district. In its “Faces in the Crowd” feature, Sports Illustrated reported on another player who resided in the suburb of Homewood. Two other suburbs boasted of their own athlete on Jackie Robinson West, while other players lived outside of the JRW territory–but in the city, according to DNAinfo Chicago.

Little League International dismissed Janes’ charges that JRW was effectively a regional all-star team. Their response is that Jackie Robinson West provided the necessary documentation to prove residency for its players. However, for reasons that no one can explain, LLI doesn’t disclose the boundaries for each individual league. And some JRW parents counter their boys are from split families, with one parent residing within the league’s zone. But claiming residency in an area for the sole reason of being able to join a team is against LLI’s rules.

Local media has dutifully reported on Janes’ allegations, and JRW’s denial, but they haven’t delved into the the details of DNA Info Chicago’s story.

Perhaps they don’t want to dismantle that almost perfect story of black kids from a bad neighborhood becoming champions. Or maybe Chicago reporters are afraid of being labelled racist.

Ruberry brothers, author center, in their Little League days

But if Jackie Robinson West did cheat, team officials should be held accountable and the JRW national championship should be revoked.

Little League is a big business, LLI has a $60 million TV contract with ESPN that runs through 2022.

Call me old-fashioned, but youth sports are supposed to build character and more. My oldest brother was a Little League coach in New England. While his team was being clobbered during a game, opposing players taunted his youngsters with derogatory chants. My brother objected to the other team’s coach, telling him, “Hey, isn’t this game supposed to be educational?” Well if it was that day, some boys were clearly learning the wrong lesson.

Putting ringers on a team is the wrong lesson too.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.