Synopsis: Many of us were inspired by the success of Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West at the 2014 Little League World Series. Unfortunately, our inspiration turned to disappointment upon hearing that the team cheated. I had originally written and posted this article back in 2015, but pulled it down upon hearing that Stephen A. Smith had been sued for speaking on the topic. Now that ESPN’s most loquacious blowhard has been dropped from the case, I’ll take advantage of the same Constitutional protection to free speech. America, what a country!
[Note: Before reposting this article, I reviewed it for mistakes. Based on what I found, someone must have changed some things while it gathered dust for a while. At the same time, I added some comments in red based on new developments since I originally wrote it. Otherwise, I kept it the same.]
TOP 10 BUSTED: JACKIE ROBINSON WEST LITTLE LEAGUE
It’s been more than three weeks since Deflategate became an all-consuming sports story. As of now, we’re still awaiting the results from the NFL’s official investigation. The public outcry has died down, only to be replaced by two other scandals involving cheating and lying.
Earlier this week, NBC suspended Nightly News anchor Brian Williams for six months because he lied while reporting certain new stories. Specifically, he “misremembered” being in a helicopter supposedly hit by a rocket-propelled grenade (a.k.a. Choppergate). The next morning, Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West Little League team lost its national title because the team cheated by using ineligible players from outside its district.
While the investigation of Brian Williams started and ended within one week, the investigation of the Little League team lasted several months. The message was clear in both cases. If you get caught lying or cheating, you will be punished. Well Roger, you’re on the clock.
TOP 10 BUSTED: TOM BRADY
Whether or not they cheated in the AFC Championship Game, the New England Patriots went to and won Super Bowl XLIX against the Seattle Seahawks. Perhaps helped by the controversy of Deflategate, the Super Bowl set a domestic record with an average of over 114 million viewers. The number of U.S. viewers topped out at 120 million during the closing moments of a tight game.
Thanks to a 28-24 come-from-behind victory, Tom Brady moved even closer to G.O.A.T. status. In reality, however, Seattle lost the game because of a boneheaded call by Seahawks Head Coach Pete Carroll. Despite having Beast Mode available, Carroll somehow decided to let QB Russell Wilson throw a pass from the Patriots’ 1 yard line. Needless to say, that decision will be second-guessed for a really, really long time.
In the short-term, the networks certainly benefited from the controversy because they’ll be able to charge even more for commercials. The 2015 rate of $4.5 million for a 30-second ad likely will hit $5.0 million next year. [I got that one right].
In turn, higher ad rates will help the NFL too. However, the next Super Bowl TV contract won’t be signed for several years. As such, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s handling of Deflategate will matter.
Does he risk tainting the achievements/legacy of NFL Golden Boy Tom Brady by coming out harshly? Or, does he risk challenging our intelligence by having an inconclusive investigation?
NO ONE LEFT TO BELIEVE?
In a post last week about Chad Ford’s role in perpetuating the hype surrounding Darko Milicic before the 2003 NBA Draft, I wrote the following sentence.
We are well past the days of respectable journalism with voices such as Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite, but I just wish that there was more news reporting and less news creating today.
While writing that sentence, I struggled to think of modern-day journalists who could meet the old standard of journalistic integrity. After all, that phrase seemingly has become an oxymoron today. I reminisced about my dad coming home from work every night to watch ABC World News Tonight because he trusted Peter Jennings.
I gave up on the nightly news a long time ago, but tend to gravitate to the networks or CNN when something newsworthy happens. For me, the other cable news channels (e.g. Fox News and MSNBC) are too opinionated in their reporting. Given my viewing tendencies, I thought about Brian Williams or Anderson Cooper as the potential torch bearers for trustworthy journalists. Phew, I dodged a bullet (or should I say rocket-propelled grenade) on that one.
TOP 10 BUSTED: BRIAN WILLIAMS
Earlier this week, NBC suspended Williams for six months as punishment for lying to viewers. Specifically, he admitted to lying about being in a helicopter supposedly hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. The
false memory lie originally had been told by Williams while appearing on The Late Show with David Letterman in 2013. However, it recently became “newsworthy” when soldiers challenged his story.
Given the extent of the punishment, NBC News must have found other instances of him lying to the public during its internal investigation.
I’m sure Williams isn’t the first, and won’t be the last, journalist to “misremember” or exaggerate the truth. In my mind, NBC News acted quickly and harshly because a news department has nothing without its credibility. For that reason, I predict that Williams will never get his old job back. At the same time, he’s too talented not to resurface in some other venue which values entertainment more than accurate news reporting.
[I got that one right too. Since ending his suspension from NBC News, Williams has hosted a news program on MSNBC for the last two years. Interestingly, longtime Today Show host Matt Lauer got fired this morning after being exposed as a sexual assault perpetrator (and overall perv). Whether legitimate or not, Williams’ name has surfaced as a possible replacement. What did write earlier about journalistic integrity?]
TOP 10 BUSTED: JACKIE ROBINSON WEST
Also this week, a Little League team from the South Side of Chicago lost its 2014 national title because it had ineligible players. Specifically, team manager Darold Butler and league president Bill Haley accepted players who lived outside the boundaries of the district. Along with district administrator Mike Kelly, they submitted falsified districts maps and asked representatives from neighboring leagues to help cover up their cheating. Unfortunately, the team needed cooperation from some of its victims. Do you notice a flaw in their thought process? So how, they didn’t.
The 2014 Little League World Series generated a lot of buzz because of the underlying human interest stories. First, Mo’ne Davis proved that a girl could be just as good as any of the boys. Second, Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West (JRW) survived four elimination games to become the third all-black team to win the U.S. Championship.
Mo’ne Davis and her team from Philadelphia lost to JRW in the semi-finals of the U.S. bracket. Still, she became a national sensation and the Associated Press even recognized her as its Female Athlete of the Year. Congrats Mo’ne, but that recognition is a sad commentary about the state of female sports.
Despite losing to South Korea in the World Championship game, the team from Chicago captured the hearts of America and went home to a hero’s welcome. Publicity seekers at all levels wanted to get as close to them as possible.
The political exploitation of the boys even carried down to the local level. In particular, a Congresswoman congratulated three boys from her district via Twitter and a mayor hung a banner in honor of a boy who lived in his village. Unfortunately, the congressional district and the village were both 5-10 miles outside the supposed boundary for the team. Oops.
TOP 10 BUSTED: THE DISGRUNTLED VICTIM
A lot of the blame for the scandal has been placed on whistle-blower Chris Janes. Of note, Janes coached a team from a district adjacent to Jackie Robinson West. He has been labeled a racist and a sore loser who filed the charges because his team lost to JRW by a score of 43-2 in a sectional game. Yes, the score was forty-three to two. But for a mercy rule that stopped the game after four innings, the score likely would have been even worse.
Do I think Janes was a sore loser who didn’t like that his kids were humiliated by a stacked team? Absolutely. Do I think he was a racist who reported JRW only because the team had African-Americans on it? Absolutely not.
Instead, the allegation reminds me of when Lance Armstrong tried to defend himself by claiming Greg LeMond had a drinking problem. In both cases, the wrongdoers tried to deflect responsibility for their actions by making inflammatory charges against their accusers.
TOP 10 BUSTED: LANCE ARMSTRONG
As a cancer survivor, Lance Armstrong amazed and inspired us by winning seven consecutive Tours de France. Despite numerous allegations of him using illegal performance-enhancing drugs, many of us (including myself) refused to believe because of everything he represented (e.g. courage, hope, perseverance).
He took advantage of our overwhelming desire to believe him such that we let him absolutely destroy anyone who told the truth about his years of systematic cheating.
Should Chris Janes be lauded as a whistle-blower? Of course not. In fact, he’s just a different version of what’s so wrong with kids’ sports today. At the same time, anyone who tries to blame him and make JRW the victim is a bully that’s no better than Armstrong and his cronies were.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel should be ashamed for appealing to Little League International President Steven Keener to reverse its decision. Emanuel exploited the boys for political gain in the summer and he’s doing it again. There’s proof that the team cheated by recruiting ineligible players. Then, they tried to cover it up by falsifying documents after the fact. We can’t forget that we’re talking about Chicago, home of the motto, “Vote early and vote often.”
TOP 10 BUSTED: JESSIE JACKSON
Adding fuel to any fire with racial undertones, Rev. Jesse Jackson has gotten involved. In particular, Jackson questioned the timeliness and harshness of the punishment. He took the boys to Disney World after they won so he has a political investment in the team that he’d like to preserve.
Another local figure, Rev. Michael Pfleger, alleged racism more directly when he said
I can’t help but question whether the same thing would have been done with another team from another place — another race.
Fortunately, that question can be answered. After winning the 1992 Little League World Series, the team from the Philippines (another team from another place and of another race) lost its title for the exact same offense. It would have been racist not to enforce the same punishment.
So how deliberate or egregious was the cheating? I’ve put together a map of the district and added push pins showing where certain players resided.
JACKIE ROBINSON WEST: THE MAP
(Viewable area approx. 20 x 25 miles)
In a tweet from August 14, 2014 (before JRW even went to Williamsport, PA), U.S. Congresswoman Robin Kelly proudly identified three players (the blue pushpins) who went to school in her congressional district. After the team returned as U.S. Champions, the mayor from a suburban village (green push pin) displayed a banner congratulating a resident team member.
For some perspective, the banner hung less than 1/4 mile from the Illinois/Indiana border but more than 25 miles from downtown Chicago. When talking to a newspaper from Northwest Indiana, Lynwoood, IL Mayor Gene Williams even bragged “We’re not going to let Rahm Emanuel steal everything.”
Upon hearing about the recognition, embittered coach Chris Janes (white arrow) researched the drivers’ licenses and voting records of the team’s family members. Based on his efforts, he uncovered two additional ineligible players (the yellow pushpins). Presumably, these two players were the ones for whom the boundaries were falsified because there was no other way to connect them to JRW.
With respect to distances from the district’s baseball field (the black star in the red circle), the white arrow and yellow pushpins are both 3 miles away, the blue pushpins range from 4-6 miles away, and the green pushpin is 10 miles away.
TOP 10 BUSTED: THE KIDS
Since the scandal broke, most people have absolved the kids of any wrongdoing. Specifically, they have claimed that the kids have been victimized by unscrupulous adults. While the parents instigated the cheating, the kids participated willingly.
As a parent of a child who played a lot of baseball, I know the difference between a Little League team and a travel team. Of note, a Little League team represents the neighborhood (i.e. kids who live near each other and/or go to the same school). In contrast, a travel team can recruit kids from a widespread area.
Everyone (the administrators, the parents, AND the kids) affiliated with JRW knew they were cheating. They hoped they wouldn’t get caught. But, they did. Somehow, we’ve been led to believe that the kids from JRW were victimized.
The players became instant celebrities. They went to the White House to meet the President and First Lady. The Governor of Illinois and Mayor of Chicago honored them in front of thousands of people. Rev. Jesse Jackson invited them to Disney World and MLB invited them to a World Series game in San Francisco.
Yesterday, one of the “blue pin” players stated that, “They can’t take any experience away from us.” He’s right. For that reason, what incentive does any future team have not to cheat in the exact same way? To the extent there are any victims, they played for the other teams who lost to JRW along the way.
What about the team from New Albany, Indiana which didn’t get to go to the Little League World Series (LLWS) because it lost 12-7 to JRW in the Great Lakes Regional Finals? What about the teams from Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, or Nevada which were eliminated from the LLWS by JRW by a combined score of 21-17. In those four games, the three players from Congresswoman Kelly’s district (the blue push pins) dominated.
- At the plate:
- 6 out of 11 extra base hits.
- 4 out of 5 home runs.
- 20 out of 28 RBIs.
- On the mound:
- 2 victories and one save.
Most likely, the team would not have won without these players.
THE WHISTLE BLOWER
It’s hard to applaud the efforts of the whistle blower, who showed us that “Hell hath no furry like a Little League Dad scorned.” Regardless, he has received some support. In particular, he revealed that someone sent him an email containing the following quote.
I wanted to reach out to you to thank and encourage you to continue to speak out against border-jumping families. While the story told of the JRW program was inspiring and the players deserve the admiration, it is my opinion that the choices of the adults deserve scorn. . . .What they fail to see is that for every accolade they have received, they have stolen those magical moments from kids and families who have followed the rules and deserve the attention.
While we can hope that the scandal will lead to more stringent monitoring of “border-jumping families,” the rewards are so great that the problem likely will continue.
So what have we learned this week? By getting suspended for lying about a news story, Brian Williams will lose at least $6.5 million. After getting caught cheating, the Jackie Robinson West team lost its national Little League title. Like many vacated titles, this one will be hollow because the spoils have already been received.
Also this week, confirmed liar and cheater Bill Belichick went on The Late Show with David Letterman to plead the case for his QB. Specifically, he continued to argue that cold weather caused the deflation of the Patriots’ balls. What’s up with that show and liars/cheaters?
TOP 10 BUSTED: DAVID LETTERMAN
With respect to the potentially tarnished QB, the findings should be revealed next month. We know that integrity and credibility matter to NBC News and Little League baseball. Now, we’re just waiting to find out if they matter to the NFL as well.