Parents of the former Little League baseball champs (pictured above) who won national respect after their 2014 winning season, only to then be rocked with a high-profile residency scandal, have filed a lawsuit, alleging that their kids were exploited.
“We brought this lawsuit for a number of reasons, but mainly to address the misconceptions, unfairness related to the parents, and the exploitive conduct of Little League and JRW, Inc.,” James Karamanis, the attorney for the 13 Jackie Robinson West players’ parents, said at a news conference surrounded by some of the families on Monday, according to the Chicago Tribune. “They feel their children were used.”
The lawsuit, filed last week, named Little League International, the person who blew the whistle on possible residency issues, the team director, and ESPN sports commentator Stephen A. Smith (for allegedly saying parents had falsified documents), according to the Tribune.
Karamanis said the families believe that Little League International gained financially from the boys’ success story. Theirs was Chicago’s first all-black team from Chicago to reach the World Series since Jackie Robinson West went 30 years earlier, and the first to win a national title. The World Championship game, in which the boys played against South Korea, was the most-watched Little League championship game since 2003.
But Jackie Robinson West was eventually stripped of its 2014 Little League World Series title when a Little League investigation found that team officials had taken part in “fraud and cover up.” It found they had recruited players outside the team’s district, falsified boundary maps, and met with neighboring leagues after the championship “to attempt to persuade them to retroactively agree to boundary changes” so that players wouldn’t be declared ineligible, the Associated Press had reported.
Now the parents are seeking financial damages to cover expenses from the scandal’s fallout, Karamanis said, as they weren’t told about the residency issues until after the boys won the national championship, visited the White House, and captivated the nation. "At every stage of the process from local qualifying to the championship game during the summer of 2014, the parents submitted appropriate documentation to JRW, Inc.,” he said. “It was the Little League’s responsibility to review and confirm the information provided.”
A spokesman for Little League International told the Chicago Tribune it had not seen the lawsuit, but that LLI stands by its decisions.
Karamanis said the scandal has been emotionally damaging for the boys and their families. “The children knew nothing about this,” he said. “The boundary maps, the eligibility documents were submitted to JRW, Inc., which submitted it to the Little League. There were no problems with the children being within those boundaries until much later.”
In August, Mets outfielder and Chicago-area native Curtis Granderson spoke with the Chicago Tribune about the fallout for the team. “It’s going to come out that [the kids] did something wrong, and it wasn’t them,” he had said. “The people that have the power, the adults, are the ones who chose to do some of the things that weren’t right. I haven’t yet heard their names be put in [the media]. It’s just been ‘the Jackie Robinson West Little League,’ and obviously the association is going to be on the kids. And that’s not right.”