A column by Michael Lopez.
This week Chicago, the real Chicago, came roaring back after taking a couple of months off. The Chicago I’m talking about is the city of patronage hiring. The city of “early and often.” The city of clout, TIF-land and now, the city of Little League cheaters. I say aloud with my eyes turned toward the heavens, “Holy shit, where does it end?” The fucking LITTLE LEAGUE is following the “Chicago Way?” Unless you’ve been on a deserted island, you know that the Jackie Robinson West Little League, a.k.a. JRW, team was caught cheating and was stripped of their title.
The team that captured Chicago’s collective attention last August when they won the U.S. Championship and placed second in the Little League World Series was stripped of its tournament wins, thus its U.S. title by Little League International on February 11. This all started with a complaint last October from Chris Janes, the vice-president of the Evergreen Park Athletic Association (EPAA).
Janes alleged that officials of JRW illegally shifted league boundaries in its favor to draw in talent from outside of their boundaries. Basically, it was move to bolster its lineup with a few good ringers. To their demise, JRW made the fatal mistake of shifting into cover-your-ass mode when the first written complaint was filed by EPAA to Little League International. JRW officials allegedly went to the three leagues immediately surrounding them and asked respective officials to sign a falsified, backdated boundary map. All three of the leagues — Rosemoor, Roseland and South Side – told JRW ‘no dice’ and refused to get involved in its shenanigans.
Ultimately, it’s the fault of, and blame and finger pointing should be directed to the willing participants who were shady and got caught. The main culprits are JRW coach Darold Butler and District 4 Administrator Michael Kelly, who allegedly didn’t follow proper procedure when redrawing the boundary map. Butler’s out and so is Kelly. Little League International has gone on to suspend the league from tournament play until President Ann Haley and Treasurer Bill Haley are replaced.
Almost immediately after the February 11 decision to penalize JRW, arguments in defense of the team were brought by civic and community leaders that went from ridiculous to outrageous. And maybe even dangerous.
City and community leaders howled for what they called “justice.” But I say that the decision by Little League International is justice. It’s justice for the teams that abided by the rules but lost to JRW. The kids in Nevada have no doubt moved on since they lost on the field in the U.S. Championship game to JRW. Now they’ve been named U.S. Champs on a technicality. I doubt if the kids on that team all ran up to the baseball diamond last Tuesday and stormed the mound. It’s a shitty situation that was exacerbated by (allegedly) mature adults who basically said, in a roundabout way, that it is okay to cheat until you get caught. Alderman Carrie Austin (34th) remains defiant, insisting JRW are still the champs. Mayoral candidate, millionaire and 7th-grade educated Willie Wilson said, “Rules shouldn’t apply to the children.”
Likewise, just like moths to the flame, the two biggest media whores in the city jumped right up and summoned every working camera available for a press conference to offer their own special brand of jackassery. Jesse Jackson held a press conference at his Rainbow PUSH Coalition headquarters, and as usual, Jackson brought out a full deck of race cards to throw down quicker than a professional blackjack dealer. Saying that he feels the decision by Little League International was a “wholesale attack” on the team’s integrity, he went on to openly question the motive for the punishment. “Is this about boundaries or race?” he asked.
No, Jesse it’s about you. It’s always about you.
Fr. Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Church on the South Side brought his own deck of race cards as well. Since we are speaking about a man of faith, I’ll be nice. I view him as a repulsive, disgusting race-baiter. Just a straight-up, pure asshole. He too came right out and said “Are you telling me the same kind of obsession of stalking, of going over this for months would’ve happened if the Las Vegas team had won?…I believe racism is in the midst of this thing”
The manner in which Pfleger spewed his vitriol and racial accusations at Evergreen Park’s Janes stopped barely short of hate speech. But Pfleger went even further in his rant on Facebook to attack Janes, accusing him of conducting a racially motivated and personal witch hunt for no reason except for the fact that he is white and the JRW team is black. It should be noted that Janes has been married 15 years to an African-American. But like a true pious man of the cloth, the Holy Father offered this advice to Janes in his post, writing “GET A LIFE…THEY WON DAMMIT!!!!” His caps, not mine. The way this Catholic Reverend behaved, you’d think his Black Membership Card was about to expire this week. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that after Pfleger’s incendiary rant, the Evergreen Park Police Department had to park a squad car in front of the Janes’ residence because of alleged death threats.
People like Pfleger and Jackson wield a lot of influence among a lot of people, but they come off as completely lazy and intellectually feeble by using the race argument. Their words carry lot of weight, and by now their allegations of racism have spread like a virus, far and wide into the minds of the JRW faithful.
The failure of Jackson and Pfleger, along with the adult leadership of the league is obvious – they had a chance to teach the children of JRW a great lesson about integrity and grace in defeat as well victory. And most importantly, to teach these children respect for rules.
Hopefully, the kids won’t learn by example of the JRW leadership, for these leaders are sorely lacking. Hopefully, the kids don’t come away from this debacle believing that, in no uncertain terms; the world is against you because you are black, so go ahead and use it as an excuse for when you fail, or as a sword when you do something wrong.
In the end, this will go down as another opportunity wasted. A championship lost to raceball.
Michael Lopez is a lifelong Chicagoan who currently resides on the South Side.