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Oh Chicago: It’s like taking championships from a Little Leaguer

For the first time in 15 years, this year an ousted Illinois governor left office without handcuffs. Alas the state — and more specifically, Chicago — found a new way to remain on the corruption-related newsfeed. Little League baseball.

Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West (JRW) won the U.S. Championship last summer. Despite losing the international championship to the kids from Seoul, this was a feel-good story.

An all-Black squad from the South Side of Chicago put together a string of exciting wins to bring joy to a community that’s too often in the news for all the wrong reasons. The kids became heroes. They were invited to visit the White House, go to the Major League World Series, and star in the general revelry to celebrate their achievement.

But a half a year later, their accolades have been taken away. After complaints from neighboring leagues and investigative reporting by local websites, the JRW was accused of fielding ineligible players. JRW officials (the grownups) secretly gerrymandered districts, overlapping boundaries with neighboring leagues. More troubling, the president of Illinois Little League District 4 signed off on the plot. After JRW won the U.S. title, JRW officials asked neighboring leagues to acquiesce to the boundary changes retroactively. Some of the neighbors sensibly wouldn’t play ball.

By this month, word reached officials from the runners up in Las Vegas (yes, more grownups). After their ethics complaints, Little League International swiftly stripped JRW of its title.

This isn’t the first time children’s or amateur sports have experienced corruption due to adults’ actions. In the Little League World Series alone, teams have had their wins overturned three times for cheating.

What conclusions can we draw?

The kids are taking the brunt of the punishment for the improprieties of adults. Some claim that vacating JRW’s title is the wrong thing to do — that those kids “fairly” won the games and had no idea of the violations. Others argue that the right approach would be to sanction JRW for the future and to force the adults to bear the punishment. Most agree, however, that Little League International had no choice. It couldn’t be seen to reward the team for skirting the rules.

Though criminal consequences are unlikely, this looks like a microcosm of white collar crime. An organization’s decision-makers (JRW officials) in conjunction with corrupt officials from a “governing body” (the president of Illinois Little League District 4) engaged in corrupt activity. As a result, non-corrupt competitors (Las Vegas and other Chicagoland teams) lost. The inhabitants of the locale where the corruption occurred (Chicagoans) also suffered.

Following the analogy through, the corrupt company’s employees (JRW players) — those who did the work to perform the illegally obtained contracts — are suffering the most. That’s not the case in most white collar crime situations. Most of the time, regular employees of the corrupt actors don’t always suffer consequences. (An excpetion was Enron, where employees lost their jobs and their retirement plans.)

By having the U.S. title stripped from them, the kids are losing prestige. Fortunately, they are not losing their benefits — they still got to meet the President, they still were celebrated at the World Series, and nobody thinks less of them for it. These are experiences that most tweens can only dream of, and the JRW kids get to keep them, no matter what.

They’ll always be heroes in Chicago.


Ilya Zlatkin is a Chicago attorney focusing on business planning, intellectual property, and international entrepreneurship. He’s also a Certified Fraud Examiner. He can be contacted here.

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1 Comment

  1. At virtually every level of society — politics, business, sports, religion — cheating has been elevated over the years from an amateur activity engaged in primarily by petty players to highly-skilled cheating — involving top officials, referees, regulators and lawmakers. The money is better today, and cheats (like everyone else) work harder for a bigger payoff.

    Big government is at the root of the problem, because a three-trillion dollar federal budget implies graft and voter fraud on an enormous scale, and government officials caught up in that life lack the moral authority to stop even the most obvious abuses. Congress writes all of its own election laws — including campaign contribution rules — so don't look for significant changes in the near future.

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