THE LOOP — Officials with the embattled Jackie Robinson West Little League team spoke out Thursday, a day after being stripped of the Little League national title, saying they are not ready to give up the title and still consider themselves champs.
"I'm taking the position, and I think they should take the position, that they are still champions unless and until we find out that there was a fair process that was evenhanded," attorney Victor Henderson said at a Loop news conference.
"We're not going to relinquish the championship voluntarily at this time," he said. "They are still the champions."
Yet Henderson emphasized he was not threatening to file a suit, calling that "saber rattling."
"There is no talk of a lawsuit," Henderson said. "We don't have enough information yet. Way too early.
"I want to know that the process is above board, fair and transparent. How many other teams have had residency issues? I don't know. I intend to find out," he said.
Henderson charged that Little League International did not contact the league before announcing its final decision Wednesday and has yet to deliver any written notice giving cause for the disqualification to the league. The players, parents and league officials learned of it through the media Wednesday morning, he said.
Asked by reporters if Jackie Robinson West improperly used players outside its residency area, as alleged by Little League International, Henderson said he did not have all the facts.
"As far as we know, all the children met the residency requirement," Henderson said. "Any suggestion or belief that this was a team put together solely to win the championship just doesn't hold water."
In a statement released after the press conference, Little League International said the organization would "be working with counsel to ensure Jackie Robinson West Little League officials and their attorneys are fully educated regarding the factual basis of the decision."
In the issued statement, Little League spokesman Brian McClintock said Little League International, because JRW had retained a lawyer, would not answer any more questions from the media or be issuing any more statements "for the time being."
Henderson urged people to not harrass Chris Janes, the Evergreen Park Little League official who asked Little League officials to look into the boundary issue. Janes has had additional police protection after threats. Read more here.
Bill Haley, Jackie Robinson West's treasurer and de facto president, who Little League International says will be replaced, said JRW, which was founded by his father, taught young ballplayers to "lose and win with grace," and was founded on the principles of good sportsmanship and teamwork.
He asked supporters to stand with the team.
"You're not wrong for sticking with our boys then, and you're not wrong for sticking with us now," he said.
Some parents of Jackie Robinson West players also attended the news conference, but declined to talk. Henderson said there would be a separate forum arranged for them in the days ahead.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. also appeared. He drew parallels with Muhammad Ali being stripped of the heavyweight boxing title while fighting draft induction during the Vietnam War, saying, "You don't have to be guilty to be crucified. That's part of life's lessons."
Henderson said he was struck by the togetherness shown by the players and their parents when they met Wednesday night. "The mark of a champion is not just how you act when things are going well. Teams also stay together when things are going poorly," he added, emphasizing, "We're not raising the race card.
"I think Rev. Jesse Jackson said it best: it doesn't matter whether it's Ferguson County, Mo., or whether it's Eric Garner in Staten Island, or whether it's Jackie Robinson here in Chicago, there should just be one set of rules that applies to everybody. Just be fair," said Henderson. "Everybody should have to live with the consequences of their actions. Just be fair and be aboveboard."
Henderson is a law partner in the firm Henderson Adam LLC with Sam Adam Jr., whose high-profile clients have included former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and R&B singer R. Kelly.
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