CHICAGO — Parents of former Little Leaguers from Jackie Robinson West filed a lawsuit Thursday against Little League International, ESPN and officials from the local league, alleging, among other things, that they profited off the disgraced team while knowing of its ineligible players.
The lawsuit by Jackie Robinson West's former coach Darold Butler and other team parents also names former league president Bill Haley, Evergreen Park whistleblower Chris Janes, the suburban Little League Janes represents and ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith.
The complaint says Butler and other team officials were diligent submitting boundary maps and player addresses throughout the team's captivating 2014 run, which they allege Little League publicized for their gain without making parents aware the team fielded ineligible players who lived outside JRW boundaries.
Jackie Robinson West won the U.S. Little League title in 2014, but it was stripped last year after Little League International ruled JRW officials allowed ineligible players to make the roster. The complaint filed Thursday falls on the anniversary of JRW's title stripping.
"Little League was aware of the potential residency issues of the children of the JRW Parents, but chose to ignore and/or deliberately conceal these facts in order to garner higher ratings, publicity, and money for Defendant Little League," the complaint states.
In the complaint, Butler says he submitted boundary maps and addresses to local league president Bill Haley and Little League International officials several times as the team advanced through the 2014 Little League World Series. But it wasn't until September 2014, after the team won the tournament's national championship, that a Little League official told Haley that Jackie Robinson West fielded ineligible players. Haley, who is accused in the complaint of concealing the Little League investigation from parents, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
And despite its findings, Little League still arranged for Jackie Robinson West's highly publicized visit to the White House and Major League World Series in San Francisco without telling parents or team officials that a residency investigation was underway. Little League stripped JRW's title in February 2015.
"Defendant Little League deliberately capitalized on the notoriety of the JRW Team and the JRW Parents in order to bolster its corporate image, gain donations and otherwise profit from the unique appeal of the JRW Tournament Team," the complaint says.
James Karamanis, the Chicago lawyer who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the parents, declined to comment, saying he plans to host a press conference Monday.
The lawsuit also alleges ESPN defamed Butler and others by saying they fabricated residency documents and deliberately assembled JRW's ineligible team. The lawsuit specifically names ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith, who said on national television that Butler "threw" his players "into the wind."
An ESPN spokesman did not have an immediate comment.
The suit also names Haley, the local league chief, for concealing the Little League investigation from JRW parents, and Janes — the Evergreen Park league chief whose team played JRW in the 2014 state tournament — for waiting until after the Little League World Series to file his grievance against JRW.
Janes called the lawsuit "laughable."
"We benefited zero from this and we didn’t go into it intending to get anything out of it, except we all want to play by the same rules," he said.
Jackie Robinson West Lawsuit 1/11/16
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