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Reporter Who Broke Jackie Robinson West Story Barred From News Conference

By Mark Konkol | June 24, 2015 6:38pm
 DNAinfo writer at large Mark Konkol was barred from a Jackie Robinson West Press conference.
DNAinfo writer at large Mark Konkol was barred from a Jackie Robinson West Press conference.
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DNAinfo/Josh McGhee

WEST PULLMAN — When Jackie Robinson West’s de facto leader Bill Haley announced Wednesday that his lawyers had launched a snitch hunt in Cook County Circuit Court, the disgraced Little League boss clearly didn’t want me around.

Security guards escorted me from the Ray & Joan Kroc Center on 119th Street, where Haley and his attorney, Victor Henderson, announced the results of their investigation into whether the Jackie Robinson West All-Star team was unfairly stripped of the Little League World Series U.S. title.

Apparently, having the guy on the premises who broke the news that Jackie Robinson West leaders schemed to stack their team with suburban ringers in an attempt to win the Little League World Series was still too close for comfort.

So security shooed me from the parking lot before Henderson told the rest of the Chicago media allowed in that he filed court papers demanding Little League identify the whistleblowers who ratted them out about using fake boundary maps. They also want all the names of Little League International officials involved in the decision to strip the title, among other things.

After I got the boot my colleague at DNAinfo.com, reporter Josh McGhee, got the same treatment.

When I asked Jackie Robinson West spokesman Glenn Harston II why he banned DNAinfo.com reporters from its news conference after inviting us through email, he refused to say a word — not even “no comment.”

Mark Konkol talks about being banned from the press conference:

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that Jackie Robinson West’s legal and public relations teams probably didn't want to be pestered with questions from the only reporter who was at the Chicago Hilton on South Michigan Avenue in January. That's when Little League officials had shoved in their face the hard truths of what JRW adults had been up to, leaving Little League International no choice but to strip the title from the kids.

I never wanted to become part of this story, but my ouster from the news conference makes it pretty clear that some people think I am. I’ve said all along that I’ve simply reported the facts about Jackie Robinson West’s off-the-field scheming and followed up with the reactions to those facts.

I've repeatedly attempted to ask JRW officials very important questions and given them an opportunity to respond to allegations, but they have not responded since last fall, before the first story broke.

So, am I surprised they didn't want me around? Not really.

But it is rather ironic that a bunch of folks looking to get their questions answered don't want to answer certain questions themselves.

After all, in the nearly 100-page court filing that’s technically a precursor to a lawsuit, Jackie Robinson West leaders suggest that they’re on a fact-finding mission, too.

JRW officials argue that the South Side league was treated unfairly, not offered due process to dispute charges leveled against it and blindsided by the decision to strip the title.

More than that, Jackie Robinson West leaders suggest that Little League International knew that the South Side team had ineligible players before the boys got to Williamsport, Pa., and yet continued to allow them to play, capitalized on the feel-good wave of publicity around the team (and the TV ratings) and continued to bang the drum with publicity events, such as a visit to the White House, after the kids won the U.S. championship.

In short, the JRW argument alleges that Little League International officials didn’t follow its own rules when it stripped the title and betrayed the all-black team  —  tossing the kids overboard as public pressure mounted and the team's financial value dwindled for the Pennsylvania-based youth sports organization and its television broadcast partner ESPN, which paid $60 million for the rights to televise the Little League World Series tournament.

The court filing asks a Cook County judge to force Little League to answer a series of questions, provide information, including the names of whistleblowers and other details, regarding the events that led to the stripping of the title.

The court filing also asks the court to compel the Illinois State Police to identify who may have provided drivers license information of JRW player parents to whistleblowers, including the man who first accused the league of cheating, Evergreen Park Athletic Association vice president Chris Janes.

“We’re not here to tell you that there were no mistakes made,” Henderson said Wednesday, according to published reports from reporters allowed inside. “We want to make sure that when mistakes are made, we’re being treated like everyone else.”

But JRW representatives stopped short of admitting that Haley and ousted district administrator Mike Kelley conspired to stack their team with ringers.

Instead, JRW spokesman Harston said, according to the Chicago Tribune, “Our investigation will show that Little League knew there were boundary issues before they made their decision, and they still allowed Jackie Robinson West to participate in the games and post-championship activities. They did it when it was to their benefit and while the team was popular.

"Later Little League International framed the conversation as if Jackie Robinson West did things underhanded and tried to cheat the system. Our investigation shows that that is not the case."

Little League International officials declined to answer questions about the lawsuit but issued a statement Wednesday disputing Jackie Robinson West's take on how the investigation that led to the decision to strip the title unfolded.

"After receiving emailed allegations, and through subsequent media reports, claims were made that Jackie Robinson West League falsified boundary maps and attempted to claim territory from neighboring leagues months after the conclusion of the 2014 Little League Baseball World Series. This was disclosed by local Little League programs within Chicago during meetings with Illinois District 4 leagues on January 31, 2014," Little League spokesman Brian McClintock wrote.

"Throughout the entire process, Little League International staff was in regular contact with Jackie Robinson West League official Bill Haley about these numerous allegations," McClintock said. "Ultimately, the Little League Charter/Tournament Committee found that Jackie Robinson West League violated Little League regulations by falsifying portions of its Tournament Eligibility Affidavit, and used past-precedent in determining the disciplinary action."

While the decision is final and binding, Little League International officials stated they have been in contact with JRW's attorney, despite statements to the contrary made by team reps.

Little League said its lawyers have given JRW officials documents related to the decision to strip the title and informed the league "numerous times of the opportunity to have an official, in-person review of this decision with the Charter/Tournament Committee, but, as of this date, [JRW] has declined to do so," according to the statement.

With the matter headed to court, it's clear Jackie Robinson West and Little League International don't agree on how things played out.

But for those of you following this story closely, there's also no doubt that Jackie Robinson West's investigation ignores some of the most important facts that led to the team getting stripped of the U.S. title — and the organization's officials still have not answering the only question that really matters — “Did they cheat?”

Since I wasn’t allowed to press Haley and his high-powered legal and public relations teams about the findings of their monthslong fishing expedition — that apparently netted nothing but unanswered questions and innuendo — let’s do that now.

First of all, why do JRW leaders assume they're entitled to “due process” in defending themselves against the cheating allegations when they signed those rights away by agreeing to be a chartered member of Little League International? What happened to being treated like everyone else?

I’m not sure how Haley would answer that question. But here’s a tidbit from the Little League rules that JRW leaders haven’t mentioned: Little League presidents voluntarily give up the right to dispute decisions or sanctions made by the international organization when they sign the annual charter agreements that includes this clause, “In the event that any controversy or dissatisfaction may arise … I agree … to accept the decision of the Charter Committee as final and binding.”

Did Haley and ousted District 4 administrator Mike Kelley expand JRW’s boundaries, overlapping other leagues in the district in order put ringers on the 2014 tournament team without getting permission from sister league presidents as required by Little League rules?

Haley has refused to answer that question. But DNAinfo.com got that question answered by Rosemoor Little League vice president Ricardo Coleman who said, “I can tell you 200 percent that we did not sign off on that map.”

Here are a couple of follow-up questions:

Did Haley and Kelley have a series of secret meetings with sister league officials in an attempt to backdate that altered map to conceal their plan from Little League?

And did that scheme come to light at Jan. 31 meetings in Chicago with Little League International officials when sister league representatives refused to sign off on the  map and demanded Kelley be ousted from his post?

No one from Jackie Robinson West has addressed those queries, either.

But people who were at the Jan. 31 meeting told DNAinfo Chicago that they did tell Little League international officials that Haley and Kelley made a failed attempt to ask them to agree to boundary changes that had been filed without their permission.

The map of District 4 Little League.

And, according to the Washington Post, Little League CEO Stephen Keener said Haley admitted Jackie Robinson West filed a bogus, backdated boundary map in an attempt to cover up cheating allegations.

“They obviously knew they had taken territory that didn’t belong to the league, so they made an attempt to meet with the other leagues and essentially ask, ‘Will you give us this territory?’ and [the other leagues] said 'no,' ” Keener was quoted as saying.

Why do JRW officials mention the role of Evergreen Park's Janes in the cheating investigation but fail to recognize former District 4 administrator Victor Alexander as a whistleblower?

Dear casual follower of the Jackie Robinson West saga, I know what you’re thinking: Who is Victor Alexander?

Well, he’s the forgotten (and probably most important) link in the cheating scandal.

Alexander is the guy who confirmed first to DNAinfo.com and later to Little League International that JRW’s boundaries were set in stone after the 2013 season and any changes made to boundaries without permission from surrounding leagues had to be fraudulent.

This is what Alexander told me after the Jan. 31 meeting at the Hilton: “Here’s where the problem comes in: Whatever was submitted for [Jackie Robinson West in 2014] and at tournament time conflicts with what was established. That’s not me pointing at anybody. Those are the facts. To my understanding, this was a fact-gathering meeting, and I provided them with as much facts as I could. Now they know firsthand, and they have a visual of the clear defined lines. … They have more facts than perhaps they had before, so they can take it from there.”

Eleven days later, Little League International stripped JRW’s title.

(Side note related to the ongoing debate on whether race was a factor in JRW getting the title stripped: Alexander is African-American. Chris Janes is white.)

And how about JRW’s financial success: How much money has Jackie Robinson West received in donations? How is that money being spent to directly benefit kids? When will JRW file its tax 2013 and 2014 tax returns?

That’s another topic Haley has refused to talk about.

All anyone knows for sure is the South Side league is flush with cash after receiving at least $200,000 in donations made publicly by the Cubs, White Sox, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and Dick’s Sporting Goods. And that might be just a drop in the bucket since more cash is still set to roll in.

Indeed, JRW is one of the charities set to benefit from the Hot Stove Cool Music benefit concert set for July 9 at The Metro put on by Foundation To Be Named Later, a charity run by Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and his brother.

Are you worried about losing all that money if JRW completely severs ties with Little League? (Technically, JRW’s Little League charter is valid but on administrative hold.)

If Jackie Robinson West officials aren’t worried about that, they probably should be. According to Little League charter documents, league presidents agree “that Little League is the sole and exclusive owner of all funds and property acquired by the organization at any time in the name of Little League and that all of these funds and property shall be devoted to solely and exclusively to Little League’s purposes.”

A Little League spokesman wouldn’t say whether Little League would go after that money donated to JRW and property owned by the league if the organizations sever ties. Instead, Little League spokesman McClintock has told DNAinfo Chicago, “The language in the charter agreement signed by the league president and the league vice president, treasurer, or secretary speaks for itself.”

Finally, let’s clear up the most important question of all: Mr. Haley, did you cheat?

So far, he hasn't answered that question.

In this case — as Haley’s league files court documents pointing fingers at everyone else without facing the facts and answering questions about his own actions — that silence probably says a lot.

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