Politicians from the White House to City Hall reacted to the Jackie Robinson West Little League team getting stripped of its national title Wednesday, taking pains to praise the players whose success last summer brought the city together.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that President Barack Obama is proud of how the Jackie Robinson West Little League Team represented Chicago and the country, and that “some dirty dealing by some adults doesn’t take anything away from the accomplishments of those young men.”
The team visited the president and first lady at the White House last Nov. 6.
Earnest said the president invited the team to the White House to “celebrate the accomplishment of those young men and the performance that they….delivered on a pretty large stage.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel released a statement highlighting the impact the team’s achievements had on Chicagoans.
“These remarkable boys brought our entire city together and reminded all Chicagoans how important it is to support our children,” Emanuel said in the statement. “They created memories that will last a lifetime and nothing will take that away, and they showed the nation their character both on and off the field. The city remains united in its support of these great children and in our hearts, they will always be champions in Chicago.”
Mayoral candidate Bob Fioretti said the players “should hold their heads high. It is unfortunate that the grown-ups didn’t follow directions and now the team members are paying the price. In that, there is a lesson for all of us to play fair and follow the rules.”
And candidate Jesus “Chuy” Garcia said he was “sad to see the young athletes of Jackie Robinson West punished so harshly. The kids played their hearts out and did nothing wrong. I support the Jackie Robinson West players and their families at this difficult time.”
Mayoral candidate Willie Wilson announced he would present the team a “special Black History Month trophy” to recognize their accomplishments and place in history. “It’s a sad day when kids have to pay the price for adults undermining the rules of fair play,” Wilson said in a news release. “Children are more important than rules.”
Emanuel has used the Jackie Robinson West feel-good story for months as a way to showcase Chicago and appeal to residents’ civic pride.
He shoehorned a JRW reference into a campaign speech on infrastructure late last month at the City Club of Chicago, earning laughter and applause when he said, “It is not an accident as we modernize our infrastructure, we also have the No. 1 Little League team in America.”
And during a Near South Side campaign rally Monday night with union workers, the mayor shouted a list of areas in which he proclaimed Chicago was No. 1, punctuating it by praising the team.
“And the No. 1 Little League in America, Chicago!” Emanuel said as the crowd roared. “The Little League is the most important, because they got great parents telling their kids right from wrong and putting them on the right track and investing in them.”
Emanuel arranged a series of watch parties in Chicago throughout the Little League World Series as the team kept winning games in Williamsport, Pa., last summer. And when they returned home, he set up a victory parade and rally befitting a professional sports team.
The Far South Side alderman in whose ward the team plays its home games blasted the decision to strip the team of the title, saying the players won the games fair and square.
Veteran Ald. Carrie Austin, 34th, predicted the action taken by Little League International won’t have any bearing on how Chicagoans feel about the team.
“They are still champions, and I believe people across this city will feel just like I do,” she said.
But Austin said “tarnishing the achievement” is a terrible idea.
“Here’s something that united us as a city, as a nation, and you want to strip that on a technicality?” said Austin, who is running for re-election Feb. 24 against three challengers.
“The players played the games, and they won the games,” Austin said. “Now you want to take this away over a boundary? Why would you strip these children of this achievement? Their lives have already been hell.”
Jackie Robinson West coaches should possibly face some type of sanction, Austin said, but even the adults who broke the rules had their hearts in the right place, she said.
“I think the coaches were trying to do what they could to help these kids, help these players,” she said.
Austin said African-Americans formed Jackie Robinson West and other Little League teams because their children weren’t welcome on nearby white teams.
“Why do you think Jackie Robinson West was created? Kids like these weren’t allowed to play in other leagues, so they formed their own. And now, after they whipped your butts, you’re going to turn around and challenge it on a technicality. These kids are still champions, and I don’t want to hear anyone say anything different,” Austin said.
Source: Chicago Tribune