Attorney: Jackie Robinson West players exploited by Little League

CHICAGO (Sun-Times Media Wire) - The Jackie Robinson West team was exploited by Little League and other officials who knew of the players’ addresses before they were stripped of their national title for not living in league boundaries, an attorney for the teammates and their parents said Monday.

James Karamanis said the parents and players want reinstatement of the team’s national crown because at every stage of the process, from qualifying tournaments to the big championship, “the parents submitted appropriate documentation to Jackie Robinson West,” and the team, in turn, submitted the information to the district and region, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting.

Instead of taking action, Little League allowed the players to go all the way, eventually being feted at the White House, he said.

The parents last week filed suit against the volunteers who ran the team, the rival coaches who turned them in, Little League Baseball, ESPN and Stephen A. Smith, a commentator on the sports cable network.

“We brought this lawsuit to address the misconceptions (and) unfairness related to the parents and the exploitive conduct of Little League and Jackie Robinson West Inc,” Karamanis said Monday. “The main goal is to seek reinstatement of the Jackie Robinson West championship team.”

Teammates Lawrence Noble and Brandon Green and a number of the team parents were present at the lawyer’s news conference Monday but declined to speak.

The story of the all-black JRW team’s journey from the South Side of Chicago to the world championship game captivated the nation in the summer of 2014, but the story unfolding behind the scenes had few heroes, according to the lawsuit filed Thursday in Cook County Circuit Court.

League officials knew ineligible players were on the JRW roster a week after the team’s Cinderella run ended with an 8-4 loss to South Korea, but they did nothing to strip the team of their U.S. title until after they had inked a new deal with ESPN. Two months later, top Little League officials posed with JRW players and President Barack Obama at the White House.

“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,” Karamanis wrote in the lawsuit.

“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 . . . (to) enhance its corporate image to raise, among other things, the value of its television deal with ESPN.”

A previous JRW lawsuit against Little League, filed by a different attorney, was dropped in 2015.

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