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Jackie Robinson West Parents Sue ESPN, Little League Over Ineligible Players

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama meet with members of the Jackie Robinson West All Stars little league team in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 6, 2014. The little league team, from the South Side of Chicago, won the national championship but lost the world title game to South Korean in August, are visiting Washington and the White House at the invitation of the President. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press
Tim DanielsFeatured ColumnistFebruary 12, 2016

Parents of former Little League baseball players from Jackie Robinson West in Chicago filed a lawsuit Thursday against several entities, including Little League International and ESPN, for profiting off the team's championship run before deeming some players ineligible.

According to David Matthews and Mark Konkol of DNAinfo, the lawsuit filed by former coach Darold Butler and other parents claims Little League officials knew about the potential issues but allowed the team to participate due to the attention it attracted.

"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 stated.

Jackie Robinson West won the Great Lakes qualification tournament to earn a trip to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, for the annual Little League showcase. The team went on the claim the United States championship before losing to South Korea in the international championship game.

Little League International announced last February it had decided to strip the team of the U.S. title for fielding ineligible players, however.

The lawsuit claims Little League continued to promote the popular Jackie Robinson West story, highlighted by arranging trips to the White House and the MLB World Series in San Francisco, without alerting parents or coaches that it had begun an investigation, according to the DNAinfo report.

Butler stated in the complaint that he continued to provide to Little League officials at both the local and international levels with information about players throughout the Little League World Series run. It wasn't until September, a month after winning the U.S. title, that players were deemed ineligible.

"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 stated, per DNAinfo.

The report noted the lawsuit also claimed defamation against ESPN, including commentator Stephen A. Smith, for statements made against Butler and other members of the staff.

Jackie Robinson West provided fans with a memorable run through the Little League World Series two years ago. A loss in the second round of the double-elimination tournament forced them to win four straight games, which they did, twice by a single run.

While Little League's decision to strip the team of its title can't take away the players' memories, it does taint an otherwise terrific summer. The report doesn't detail what type of damages the parents are seeking as part of the lawsuit.

DNAinfo noted Chicago lawyer James Karamanis, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Butler and the other parents, is scheduled to hold a press conference Monday.  

 

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