By Martin Weil
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Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West team won the 2014 Little League national championship last August, but Little League International stripped them of their title due to their serious violation of residency rules. It wasn’t the first time a team of youngsters had been stripped of a championship title for cheating.
Back in the day, when I still had a baseball-loving 12-year-old kid at home, I was closely involved in our local little league program, both as a volunteer and assistant coach. At the time, the rules that National Little League imposed on local programs sometimes seemed to me capricious or silly. Who cares whether a coach wears a professional baseball jacket? Or whether we pay teenagers a small sum to umpire games despite the “all volunteer” mandate?
But at the core, I knew that Little League rules were established to create a level playing field for all players and foster important values in participants. While winning was important (it is, after all, a competitive game), parents could instill in the young boys and girls a spirit of fair play — an attitude they might carry with them throughout their lives. I realized that this fair play ideal was not always top of mind for many of the overly competitive parents and coaches in our affluent neck of Marin County, California.
Adults — and it was always the adults — bent the rules of competitive play. This was certainly in violation of Little League rules. But it also offset Little League’s valuable moral lesson to our players. Parents were teaching their kids a different lesson, and it was entirely the wrong one.
So my take on this latest Little League International decision, painful as it was on the kids who played and won for Jackie Robinson West, is that it’s absolutely the right one. It reflects the sort of justice and ethics that we seem to have forgotten of late. There are rules, and they’re there to ensure fair play. People may get around the rules, but there are consequences for doing so if they get caught.
I tip my hat to Little League for the courage of their convictions. I only wish that the same justice might have been meted out to the cheaters at every name-your-too-big-to-fail bank for the economic train wreck they created by gaming the system throughout the 1990s and 2000s. They, too, should have been stripped of their trophies — equity value, brand value and (let’s not forget) multi-million dollar executive bonuses — for cheating.
Makes me wonder: Had some of the most egregious ethical violators among the senior executives at major investment banks coached our Little League?
Image via iStock.