Parents of former Little League baseball players from Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West squad filed a lawsuit Thursday against Little League International and the local league, according to David Matthews and Mark Konkol of the website DNAinfo, for allegedly electing to ignore potential concerns about players’ eligibility to generate additional revenue.
In February 2015, Little League stripped the Chicago-based squad of the U.S. championship it won at the prior year’s Little League World Series after determining it used players that lived outside of its boundaries. In a statement, the organization said Jackie Robinson West “knowingly expanded its boundaries to include territory that belonged to other leagues in the district” and “used a falsified boundary map” for the competition.
In the lawsuit filed Thursday, former Jackie Robinson West coach Darold Butler and more than a dozen parents of the team’s former players, alleged “Little League was aware of the potential residency issues” of some of the players, “but chose to ignore and/or deliberately conceal these facts in order to garner higher ratings, publicity, and money.” The suit claims Butler submitted each child’s residency documents and a boundary map to Little League, which was “responsible for reviewing and scrutinizing the residency documents with the boundary map, and then confirming the eligibility of each player participating in the tournament.” However, Little League raised no such concerns until a month after the world series concluded.
In mid-December 2014, Little League International’s senior vice president of operations, Pat Wilson, told the Chicago Sun-Times, “the team provided documentation to support the residency in accordance with Little League rules. We reviewed that documentation multiple times and that documentation meets Little League’s criteria for residence as outlined in our rule books, and that’s basically it.”
Two months later, the organization pulled a complete about-face, infuriating the Jackie Robison West faithful.
In their complaint, Butler and the parents allege Little League “deliberately ignored and/or concealed the eligibility problems” of the team “in order to reap the rewards of the short-lived fame and media attention.” It claimed the organization “deliberately capitalized on the notoriety” of the team “in order to bolster its corporate image, gain donations, and otherwise profit from the unique appeal” of it, noting Little League orchestrated trips to the White House to meet President Barack Obama and to Major League Baseball’s World Series in San Francisco in 2014.
The lawsuit also named ESPN and commentator Stephen A. Smith as defendants, saying the two accused the team’s parents of “falsifying documents and perpetrating a fraud” upon Little League, accusations which “were patently false and were baseless and without merit.” It highlighted comments Smith made on ESPN’s First Take, where he allegedly commented Butler’s face should be displayed and “treat[ed] like the mug shot it deserves to be treated like.”
The parents and Butler are seeking financial recourse in excess of $50,000 for “pain and suffering, award amounts due for lost prospective economic benefits and loss of reputation.” Jackie Robinson West previously filed a lawsuit last June against Little League in an attempt to have the organization turn over all documentation it used when deciding to strip the U.S. championship from the team.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.