Cheaters can’t be champions.
Little League International stripped Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West Little League team of its U.S. championship title for using players from outside of the boundaries of the team’s district. It is sad for the team of youngsters, no doubt. But it is necessary and right. And any attempt to deflect responsiblity from the shoulders of cheating should be rejected for the sake of the kids involved.
Yes, it is hard on the children. Crying, Brandon Green, one of the Jackie Robinson West players, made an impassioned plea for why he feels his squad should remain titleholders.
“We know we’re champions,“ he said. "Our parents know we’re champions, the team’s fans know we’re champions and Chicago knows we’re champions.”
But they are not champions. They haven’t earned it. Nothing rattles reason like youth matched with tears, and many have seized on the plight of the players as a reason why Little League International should have turned a blind eye and let them keep their trophy. After all, it was a group of adults who redrew the fraudulent boundaries that allowed Jackie Robinson West to field a "super team." Some unhelpfully have cried racism, since the team came from Chicago’s South Side and became a symbol of empowerment for the local African-American community.
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But it doesn’t matter who or what was responsible. The bare fact remains that this team cheated. It won a title it did not earn because it came from a team that should never have taken the field in the first place. There was fraud. There was cheating. There was advantage not shared by its competitors. The outrage now is over a championship that was clearly undeserved, even stolen.
Winning is important in sports, but losing is just as instructive. When a team in any sport – or a person in business – fails and loses, the next step is a powerful learning process. Did we hustle enough? Did we execute the plays correctly? Were our fundatmentals sound? Did we exceed our own personal expectations to play our best? Those questions determine whether a team can win the next game. They also make the individual players better.
Instead, the coaches turned around and decided to make up for their shortcomings by upgrading kids at positions by stealing from other teams. Think of how unfair this was to the team itself. Yes, a child from a neighboring district might get a chance to play, say, shortstop for a super squad, but that also means that a kid from that same district who would otherwise play shortstop was robbed of his own chance to play. More importantly, he was robbed of his opportunity to learn and improve.
It is regretable that people like Rev. Jesse Jackson are calling this "persecution.” It isn’t. It is justified prosecution, a sanctioning meant to send a message to people throughout the country that cheating in any form can’t be tolerated. What’s worse are the threats of lawsuits and the shameful cheering and rallying around a team that was born from malfeasance and wore laurels meant for those who played by the rules. It is an equally hollow victory for a team that cheated its way to victory to maintain its title in a courtroom. The asterisk that would follow would be a scarlet letter for their entire careers.
You might think this is only a game. You may think this is just a bunch of kids who deserve better. You’d be right on both counts. But the best thing to happen to the Jackie Robinson West team is to lose the title and feel that sting. They should embrace that hurt and then learn from it. That pain will make sure that, faced with an ethical or moral choice in the future, these young men choose the right path over wrong. That hurt makes sure that they appreciate the lesson that hard work and fair play are better than cutting corners to win at all costs. As they go through business, they will appreciate their employees more, treat them better, deal with customers fairly and build lives and companies that others can admire. They can become leaders.
So hold the applause and fight back the tears today, because only then can we say that they are winners. And, if their failure is allowed to happen and they turn it to good, they can truly hold up their heads and call themselves champions. I’m rooting for them.
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