Baffoe: It’s Not The Players Acting Like Children In Jackie Robinson West Controversy

By Tim Baffoe-

(CBS) That adolescent eye roll combined with the dropping of shoulders and a labored sigh that’s the bane of every adult’s existence — I’m going to allow a collective one of those right now from every kid who plays sports. That’s because grown-ups are just the worst.

The feel-good Chicago sports story of last summer was Jackie Robinson West’s march to a U.S. championship in the Little League World Series. Now it’s being hijacked by minivan-driving bureaucrats hell-bent on demanding satisfaction for their Taylors and Tylers and Taelors and Tai-lers.

In a tournament comprised of all-star teams from around the country and world, the team from the South Side of Chicago is being accused of being too all-starry by allegedly expanding league boundaries. Suburban Evergreen Park complained after the fact and was summarily dismissed. Now it’s the grown-ups from Las Vegas demanding that JRW’s title be stripped — that a bunch of kids be told what they accomplished is now invalidated.

Feel-good narratives are sappy in adult competition, but Little League is exactly made for that sort of stuff. JRW had a nation captivated by its run at a title, and combined with the incredible play of Philadelphia’s Mo’ne Davis, the 2014 Little League World Series was everything proponents of amateur sports and having fun playing a game could have asked for.

But hell hath no fury like a youth sports parent scorned. Mountain Ridge (Nevada) Little League president Kristi Black thinks JRW’s title “has an asterisk on it like the one on Barry Bonds home run record.”

Yes, children winning a tournament is like a multi-millionaire using (arguably league-condoned) performance-enhancing drugs to break the most hallowed record in sports. Hyperbole much?

What happens to Vegas stays gnawing away at an adult’s vicarious living through children in Vegas, apparently. Just ask its coach, who won’t allow another major cheating scandal to sully all that’s pure about a game that has turned kids into show ponies on ESPN for a month a year.

“Lance Armstrong went down that road and became an example of what happens when you say one thing and it’s actually the other,” Vegas coach Ashton Cave told DNAinfo Chicago.

Seriously, he made that leap.

“The truth comes out,” Cave added. “We’re not just going to use 12 and 13-year-old kids as pawns to generate income on society. That’s just unacceptable.”

No, you’re going to use them to justify your own sense of self. Totally healthy. So difficult is it for some adults to accept even the slightest inferiority of children as a reflection on the adults themselves, that this has become the sad quest for validation. Nothing conjures up the warm and fuzzies of sports like an asterisk. Then you get to say, “Hey, the kids I use to feel feelings didn’t win. But they also didn’t lose, and that’s what’s important to me.”

Along the way, other past Little League World Series participants certainly played with literal and figurative boundaries. Because youth competition has become a game beyond the game of fudging and corner cutting among hypocritical grown-ups, that’s only a problem when the other team is caught doing it.

Plus, the league presidents of the districts JRW allegedly “poached” players from had to know something was up if kids from their districts were on TV playing for another team — yet who heard from them throughout last summer?

If the JRW adults did come closer to breaking rules than just bending them, they deserve criticism, if not shame. The “he said, she said” of it all is lame to begin with. But then we’re back to supposed grown-ups squawking about other supposed adults while a bunch of kids who just like to have a lot of fun playing baseball stand aside rolling their eyes as to why people are arguing over their worthiness.

Even the most feel good of feel good stories — one in which children achieved and in which their joy in doing so brought joy to millions of viewers — can’t feel good because adults suck. And that’s when these all-star teams become objective units comprised of little people for whom baseball has become a job, not a game.

One of your best friends that you had the time of your life with out on that field in South Williamsport, Pa., doesn’t live in the right place? So you did your job wrong, kid. Next time, do a better job of vetting your fun through the proper grown-up channels.

As a sixth-grader, my really good grade school football team was disqualified from the playoffs because a kid on our team didn’t meet the proper criteria to play in the Southwest Catholic Conference (which includes Evergreen Park). We were told the games we’d won were now wiped away, and I remember us all crying and being so confused as to why adults were deciding what we had or hadn’t accomplished. I can’t recall a worse personal sports experience.

So I can’t help but think of what the players for Jackie Robinson West are thinking right now, as well as the kids from places like Evergreen Park and Las Vegas and everywhere where adults tell kids the games they played didn’t actually happen that way and that those kids are superior or inferior based on grown-up arguments and decisions.

And I drop my shoulders and audibly sigh and roll my eyes. There are some great adults who dedicate their time to youth sports. This situation is not an example, though.

Too many grown-ups involved in youth sports just suck.

Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe.

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