Like many of you, I woke up yesterday to the news that the Chicago-based Jackie Robinson West Little League was stripped of all of its tournament wins, including the U.S. Championship, for using players who lived outside of the geographic area that the league represents.
I’m sure most people who have been following the story are saddened, disappointed, and even angry that a handful of adults ultimately destroyed what these kids achieved on the field. Upon hearing the news, I was truly devastated. I’ve been thinking about it constantly. However, the focal point of my thoughts do not center much on baseball; they center on race. In particular, Race in America, and what this disappointment means to the entire African American community, and people like me who championed Chicago’s every win.
You can’t properly process this story without taking into account that Jackie Robinson West Little League was an all-African-American team team from the inner-city. And while Mo’ne Davis was blazing her own path to stardom as an African-American female athlete, it was the kids from Chicago that truly embodied the “team” aspect of exceptional performance in Williamsport.
With every win, the legend of these amazing kids grew. And soon, their journey to the U.S. Championship was not just a story about kids playing baseball, it was a story about history. It became bigger than baseball. Those kids had the entire nation tuned-in to ABC/ESPN to see them. The nation watched to see them play; African Americans watched to see them win. They were the topic of conversation in our barbershops, at our cookouts, and around our dinner tables. And while it may seem completely irrational for me to put these kids, playing little league baseball, in the same sentence with President Obama, the conversations in the black community had some of the very same phrases, “I never thought I’d see the day,” “They make us all so proud.” And indeed, the boys from Jackie Robinson West gave us all so much to be proud of, traveling a historic path fitting to carry the name Jackie Robinson. And we should continue to be proud of the kids, how they played, and how they conducted themselves under unbelievable media attention.
And I must acknowledge that the appeal of this team exceeded far beyond just the African American community. Similar to the political campaigns of President Obama, people from all walks of life openly supported the kids from Chicago. But you must understand, kind of like how we feel about the President, those kids are ours.
I grew-up playing little league baseball. And every year, since I can remember, I’ve watched the Little League World Series. For many of those years, I watched the games sitting beside my mother, who is an amazing baseball fan in her own right. I used to always laugh at her because she has an “unusual” cheering method. She would wait for the player introductions, look at all the kids, and then tell me who she was cheering for. I’d ask mom, “How do you justify cheering for a team from the Northeast over a team from the South or a team from Hawaii over Louisiana?” she would smile and say, “I’m rooting for the team with the most diversity.” Over the years, even when I knew her philosophy, I’d continue to give her a hard time, “You’re rooting against the team from Virginia? That makes no sense, you don’t know anyone on that other team, and we live in Virginia,” I’d say. She’d point to the screen,”See that second basemen or that shortstop (who happened to be black)? I may not know them personally, but I know what they’ve gone through to be on that field – so I’m cheering for them.”
As the years have gone by and I’ve noticed the decline of African Americans in the major leagues and the decline of African Americans playing youth baseball, all of sudden, I noticed that I had started to adopt my mom’s philosophy of cheering for the little league team with the most “diversity” – though we should call it what it is, we cheer for the team with the most black players. It may be a flawed system but it’s the truth. And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to understand that this “unusual” cheering method was not exclusive to my mother.
What my mother understood and what I’ve ultimately come to realize is that we cheer for people who look like us because if they are successful it will ultimately make it easier for the next person, who looks like us, to follow and succeed. What some people may not truly understand about the African American community is that, even in 2015, our community is still largely judged as a group. Far too often, we are not judged on our individual merits but as a general community, and to an extent we own that, in good times and in bad. When Denzel won that Oscar, “WE” won that Oscar. When Mike Tyson went to jail, “WE” went to jail. And when Eric Garner got choked, “WE” couldn’t breathe. Is that fair? No. Does it happen? All the time.
Call me crazy but I spend most of my days just trying not to mess it up for the next guy that looks like me. And for the record, if you’re ever wondering when there is some type of breaking news about a mass murderer or a deranged gunman running the streets, that fear of being judged as a group is the reason we ask if the person is black…that person could mess it up for all of us.
Though I’m not from Chicago, and don’t know any of the kids, coaches, or families involved in Jackie Robinson West Little League, this violation of little league rules hurts the entire community. It’s a massive setback. And if you think I’m overreacting, chances are you’ve never been judged by the actions of others, who just happen to look like you.
My closing point is: Shame on those adults that broke the rules. This amazing accomplishment is now taken away from those kids and from our entire community. While you may not think this is a big deal, trust me, it’s a very big deal. If there ever is another all-African-American little league baseball team that wins the U.S. Championship, they won’t be viewed the same because of Jackie Robinson West. The actions of a few adults have indeed messed things up for those who will follow.
I don’t know if I’ll be alive to see another black President. Honestly, I may not see another black Governor of Virginia, but chances are, given the current trend of African Americans turning away from youth baseball, I will see both of those aforementioned accomplishments before I see an all-African American team win the U.S. Little League Championship. And all I can say to that is: This one hurts…really bad.
I speak for myself and myself only…these views are mine but feel free to leave a comment.