City leaders, parents and Jackie Robinson West players called on Little League officials to reverse their decision to strip the Chicago champions of their U.S. title over residency violations, saying that the team doesn’t deserve to be punished.
"We think that this punishment is too harsh,” said Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. “If this were a case of someone who was over age, 16 years old, as have happened in some cases, it’s forfeiture."
The call came during a press conference with the Rainbow Push coalition, where Jackson and Father Michael Pfleger spoke alongside fellow JRW supporters to commemorate the team despite the allegations.
JRW was stripped of its Little League World Series national championship title Wednesday after officials determined the South Side team added top suburban players in violation of residency rules.
The revocation of Jackie Robinson West's title means the national title would be handed to the Mountain Ridge Little League team of Las Vegas, Nevada.
Jackson compared the decision to the “deflategate” scandal, saying that adults involved in the scandal were punished, but the team was not.
He noted that parents "feel a sense of pain over the attacks on the integrity of their children," and said some of the players were harrassed in school following the news.
Pfleger called the investigation a “witch hunt,” alleging the investigation was racially motivated.
“I can't help but wonder and question if the same thing would have been done with another team, another place, another race,” he said. "
Tearful mother Venisa Green said she learned of the news while taking her son to school Wednseday morning.
Player Brandon Green said the team was simply playing baseball.
“We went down there to play baseball and we weren’t involved in anything that could have caused us to strip us of our championship,” he said. "We know that we are champions, our parents know we are champions ... and Chicagoans know we are champions."
Venisa Green said the decision came after officials were “bullied” by other teams in the league, noting that previous investigations into the allegations found that the team had not violated residency regulations.
“Until the powers that be bullied Little League into getting the decision they ultimately wanted,” she said.
The decision left team manager Darold Butler suspended from Little League activity and Illinois District 4 Administrator Michael Kelly was removed from his position, Little League International spokesman Brian McClintock said in a statement.
Butler’s father, Dennis Butler, said Wednesday that his son “is not guilty of anything.”
“The coach just coaches, he doesn’t go around investigating ‘Where do you live?’” he said.