Saying neither the coaches nor the children did anything wrong, Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. called on the Little League International to reinstate the Jackie Robinson West (JRW) 2014 championship title and apologize to the children.
“Collective punishment is not fair play and should not be an American value, but that is what the Little League International did when it stripped the U.S. championship from a group of children who earned it,” Reverend Jackson told reporters. “They were the first Blacks to accomplish this in 2014.”
At a press conference held at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, Reverend Jackson was joined by Donita Butler, mother of DJ Butler, now 19, and wife of JRW coach, Darold Butler; Bishop Tavis Grant, national field director for the Rainbow PUSH Coalition (RPC); Betty Magness, Illinois political director; Reverend Cameron Barnes, national youth director for the RPC; Reverend Janette Wilson, senior advisor to Reverend Jackson and PUSH Excel national executive director; and Reverend Tim Lee, director of the STEM and Sports Summer Camp for PUSH EXCEL.
Reverend Jackson said the Little League International “should have played by one set of rules” and they failed to do so.
Agreeing was Donita Butler. Embroiled in a six-year court battle with the Little League International, Donita Butler said, “Finally in April, they decided to settle with the kids.
“One of the main issues I have is that they acknowledged that the kids and the coaches didn’t do anything wrong. They played by the rules, and they won. Their title should be restored, along with an apology from Little League.”
Butler went on to say, “One of the most damaging things they tried to do was last year when they tried to settle out of court with the players. They tried to make the players go against their coaches. The kids refused to sign for a settlement last year because they didn’t want to sell their coaches out for a lot of money.
“The Little League decided that they didn’t have anything on the coaches, so they had to dismiss their claims. They had filed fraud cases against them.” Butler told the Chicago Crusader, “The International didn’t have anything to prove that the coaches had anything to do with changing boundaries or falsifying maps.”
Still fuming over a six-year court fight, Butler had a message for Steven Keener, the CEO of the Little League International, “Apologize to all 13 kids[and] to all of the coaches who worked hard with those kids. Play and run the game fair.
“Steven Keener, you know, I know, the coaches and players know that you took something from the children that you didn’t have to. You acknowledged that they didn’t do anything wrong, but still you took their title. You owe them an apology,” Butler said.
“You were a part of the scheme that we didn’t know anything about,” Butler said demanding that Keener apologize to all 13 of the children, whose ages ranged from 11 to 13 at the time.
Rev. Jackson asked his staff to repeat: “Whenever the playing field is even, rules are public, goals are clear, referees are fair and the score is transparent, we win against the odds.”
A message left at Keener’s office was not returned by the Chicago Crusader deadline.
Thanks to the generosity of funding provided by The Field Foundation of Illinois, Inc. in producing this article.
(Published in the Chicago Crusader Newspaper August 21, 2021)