I'm not sure when it happened, I guess it's always been this way. PEDs in baseball, but uppers and downers before that. Blood doping, steroids, police batons to the knee. Fudging stats, birth dates, eligibility forms. Somewhere along the way playing fair became a thing of the past. If it even ever was a thing.
The big story in town right now is the decision to strip Jackie Robinson West of its Little League U.S. Championship. Apparently JRW had players on their team in violation of the residency rules of the organization. They added "ringers" but I'm sure they weren't the first and definitely won't be the last. I've coached little league and high school baseball in the past and while I can't prove anything, I saw a few things that didn't add up. We probably played against kids that weren't academically eligible or were maybe the wrong age but I never coached a championship baseball team at any level so the stakes weren't high. Maybe a team played a student who shouldn't be playing just so that the other eight kids wouldn't have to forfeit. Or maybe a kid was too old but he wasn't quite ready for the next step up. I don't know, there are plenty of ways to rationalize almost anything if you try hard enough. Besides, isn't it what the pros do? From the Patriots, the World Champs, to Anderson Silva, arguably the G.O.A.T. when it comes to MMA, everyone seems to be okay with it. So what are we teaching our kids? What kind of behavior are we modeling?
I'm torn about the decision regarding JRW. Certainly the children aren't at fault. They practiced hard, sacrificed themselves, made the clutch plays, and won the games. It's the adults that should be punished. But how do you punish them? What could be done to the organization? Okay, so maybe you can right one wrong by awarding the title to Las Vegas. But what about all of the other teams? What if my kid played on one of the teams that got knocked out by JRW? It's definitely complicated and almost everyone agrees that the players don't deserve this.
Unfortunately, deserve's got nothing to do with it.
In the film Unforgiven, Will Munny says this to Little Bill right before taking his life. While the movie is just well written fiction, the message still rings true, life isn't fair.
At work I'm currently teaching a lesson on resiliency. Research shows that the reliable presence of positive role models and/or caring and protective parents or caregivers, can help shield children against adverse experiences. Now, while one can argue that there are many things more traumatic than being stripped of a title, I do believe that this could leave an impact on these kids. They were given a parade, they became national heroes and we saw it all on ESPN. Now many people will be calling them liars and cheaters. I think that's quite a fall for your average 11 to 13 year old. I hope that their parents and their community can use this as a teaching experience. There are many resiliency factors and studies have shown that children and families that possess these factors, often do better in the face of adversity. In other words, the child who is capable of thinking that things will be better-that the bad feelings and situation he now faces will improve-will be more resilient. Basically, if these kids can make lemonade out of lemons, they'll be better off in the long run.
That being said, I have mixed feelings about this situation. Our mayor has pleaded for the decision to be overturned, community and city leaders are also calling for Little League to change their minds, and even the police have been asked to stand guard outside of the home of the the coach who challenged the residency rules due to death threats. What kind of example are we setting for these young adults? It is also difficult to look at this as only a simple rules violation. Would this team be scrutinized as much if it weren't an all black team? I'm not sure, but it is interesting to note that they were investigated and nothing was initially done. Venisa Green, a mother of one of the players said that there were three investigations, and twice they came up with nothing. "...the powers that be bullied Little League into getting the decision that they ultimately wanted," Green said.
In the end, I guess all we can do is try to raise our kids with the values that we feel are important to us. We can model the behavior we want to see in them, and try to explain to them that even when you do the right thing, bad things can happen. You just have to dust yourself off and try again.
Hopefully someone is explaining all of this to the JRW players, it's just heartbreaking that they have to.