An Open Apology to the Kids of Jackie Robinson West
Dear Young Men of Jackie Robinson West,
In the wake of the news of your forfeiture of wins in the Little League World Series tournament proceedings, I wanted to apologize to you on behalf of all adults out there who have ever manipulated kids to achieve their own selfish goals.
It is my sincerest hope that your coaches and the administrators of your home league, and those of all the surrounding leagues that were involved, see fit to offer you personal and specific apologies for what they have done. Still, I fear you’ll learn soon enough — if you haven’t already — that we adults aren’t always the most sincere when it comes to talking to kids.
Heck, I ply my two young children with various privileges and punishments based on the various responses I need, only to later excise or amend said treats and taunts with the excuse that life altered the circumstances. And there’s usually no consequence for me; my kids did what I wanted and I reaped the rewards.
I’m sorry if that example seems petty; having the basis of your dream season sullied and stolen is a bit more heinous that missing out on a movie at bedtime. But I hope you see my point, which is that adults, well, we really can’t always be trusted. You shouldn’t have to think that way, but it’s quite obvious that your innocence has already been lost in that regard.
Because it wasn’t just Chicago that was cheering for you, it was the whole nation. One of only a few all African-American team to represent the US in the sport we consider our national pastime? Who didn’t want to get behind that? On second thought, don’t answer that; that’s another ugly truth you’ll discover all too soon if you haven’t already.
But it wasn’t the color of your skin that engendered so much emotion. And, even as a fan of Chicago sports, it wasn’t your (amorphous) city of origin either. I saw the joy with which you played a game that I love and was swept up in that and taken back to the days of my own you. Thank you for that.
The parades, the rallies, the news stories and meetings with dignitaries and celebrities, those can’t be taken away. But, at least nominally, the impetus for all of those events has been. And it’s all because a few adults got together and decided that they wanted to manufacture a little glory.
Sure, they’ll say they did it for the kids. Hey, look what we did for these young men! We gave them the opportunity to be something bigger than what they’d ever dreamed possible. Yeah, and then you ripped it all away from them as the result of your own selfish, idiotic actions.
All we heard about in the weeks leading up to the biggest football game of the year was the story of a few deflated footballs, but those were grown men making choices for themselves and other grown men. And despite all the hype, it’s unlikely that anything will come of it outside of the firing of some patsy equipment manager who was likely just doing his job.
But here we are, learning about the vacation of games, titles, and glory…of kids. Young men of JRW, I’m sorry that you are in this position right now and I’m even more sorry that you were put in it from the start. Had your leaders simply decided to not fabricate a district map and bend a few rules, this would all be a moot point.
You know what though? They can never take from you the experiences that you had on your journey. Nor can they take from all of us the joy we had in watching you play. And I hope that, in the end, you have learned something about life beyond the idiom “sometimes the juice is worth the squeeze.”
I hate the fact that my own cynicism has been reinforced by this news and I truly hope that yours has not yet developed solid enough foundations to stand on its own. I fear, however, that that is an inevitable fact of life. Perhaps, though, you can learn from this and can become the type of adults that don’t allow this sort of thing to happen in the future.
You see, even the tacit acceptance of the fudgery of various rules can result in some pretty epic failures. After all, what we permit is what we promote and there was a whole lot of permission going on throughout this process. As a participant, parent, and coach in Little League baseball, I’m sorry that you were allowed to go through this.
I’m not sorry, however, that you exemplified what youth sports should be about and that, in doing so, you gave us all something to hold dear. Your smiles shone through the muddied motives of those who were supposed to be setting an example for you. I sorry that you had to serve as your own role models, but I’m glad you were able to do so.
It won’t give you back any wins or restore any lost faith in your mentors, but I want you to know that I’ve been inspired to purify my own motives as far as my kids are involved. In losing far too much of your own innocence, you’ve managed to give me back some of my own.
D. Evan Altman