CHICAGO — Parents of Jackie Robinson West players joined community leaders Wednesday to charge that Little League International officials acted unfairly in stripping the team of its U.S. title, suggesting that race played a role.
Some parents and players joined the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson and the Rev. Michael Pfleger at Rainbow PUSH Coalition headquarters to criticize the decision. Parents said they were also upset that they had to learn of the action through media reports.
Brandon Green, 13, the team's catcher who pitched the last game against Korea in the International World Series, was riding to his school bus stop with his mother when he heard the news on the radio, his mother said.
"I saw the tears well up in his eyes," his mother, Venisa Green, told DNAinfo Chicago. "I asked him, was he OK, should we go back home? And he said, 'No Mommy, I'll be OK."
Green said she and other Jackie Robinson West parents texted each other after the news broke that Little League International had determined that JRW officials had used players from outside their designated recruiting area. With no official notification, they were left to trying to figure out among themselves what happened and what it meant for their kids.
"We were totally blindsided, as we did not know any of this was going on," Venisa Green said. "We didn't know [Little League International] was visiting Chicago, investigating our league. We didn't know that they had made this decision."
Venisa Green spoke with DNAinfo Radio:
Green said the situation with Jackie Robinson West — the first all-black team to win the U.S. championship — "just seems to be the same age-old fight about race and class."
"I wholeheartedly believe if the boys were not African-American that all of this probing and prodding into what the newscaster [said] this morning was not an isolated incident about boundaries and Little League" wouldn't have happened, she said.
"Why did it have to be these boys, where the example has to be set about boundaries and rules?" Green said.
The news broke early Wednesday that the title would be awarded to the Mountain Ridge Little League team in Las Vegas that Chicago defeated in the U.S. title game.
At the news conference at Rainbow PUSH headquarters, 930 E. 50th St., Jackson asked, "Is this about boundaries or about race?"
"It should not take six months after the team has played the game to determine if the players were eligible to play the game," Jackson said.
Jackson suggested that if, indeed, rules were broken, stripping the team of its title was too harsh a punishment and some kind of probation might be more appropriate.
Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Catholic Church, complained that Little League "went after the children."
"Reverse your decision unless you are willing to investigate all of the 16 teams [who were finalists in the Little League World Series] the way you investigated this team," Pfleger said, who also charged that race played a role in the decision.
Pfleger asked "Why every time" young African-Americans are successful "somebody has to question it?"
Brandon Green, the catcher on the team, said at PUSH that "it shouldn't be on the kids."
"We went down there and played baseball and we weren't involved in anything that could have caused us to be stripped of our championship," Green, 13, said. "We know that we are champions, our parents know we are champions, the teams know we are champions and Chicago knows we are champions."
Meanwhile, Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), who represents the area of the city that many of the players are from, said, "My boys are still winners."
"They won the game. That trophy doesn't determine the winners, the bodies that played won the game. So, they're still winners," Austin said.
While the adults, "if they forged anything of course they did wrong," she said, Austin added: "I'm upset that everybody is trying to take something away from these young boys who did a good job."
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