Grownups Ruin Fun

Tyler Sloan, Editor in Chief

For as long as youth sports have existed, so too have overly involved adults that manage to inadvertently detract from the spirit of the game. The recent stripping of the United States Little League Baseball championship title from the Chicago-based Jackie Robinson West team serves as a perfect example of this phenomenon. Jackie Robinson West, an all-Black team located in the city’s South Side, competed in the national competition to clinch the title last summer, ultimately falling in the world championship to South Korea. Just this week, the Little League announced its plans to strip all of the team’s 2014 wins, including the national title, because of the actions of the team’s coach, Darold Butler.

Butler broke League policy by falsifying maps and recruiting players who lived outside of the official district, unbeknownst to the actual members of Jackie Robinson West’s roster and their parents and guardians. While Butler faces suspension and a damaged reputation for his shortsighted actions, it is important to note that his behavior is far from isolated in the world of youth sports. Too often, adults digest sports through the obscene sums of money professional athletes earn, and in turn, lose sight of why children get involved with sports in the first place. This is especially notable in the already contradictory practice of nationally broadcasting 11- and 12-year olds playing baseball.

It is worth prefacing the rest of this article by saying that parents, guardians and whoever else takes kids to their late-night practices two hours away deserve all the praise in the world. Having an adult in your life who is willing to haul you to some awful tournament in Disney World over New Year’s is truly invaluable. However, there remains a distinct and crucial difference between a supportive mentor and an adult who, simply put, crosses a line.

The exceedingly invested parent can take one of three primary forms: the parent living vicariously through their child’s athletic endeavors, the parent who truly believes their child is the next Derek Jeter and, my personal favorite, the parent who thinks they should be the coach of the team because the coach clearly has no idea what they are doing.

While more often than not, it is the parents who become way too obsessed with their children’s athletics, coaches also waver in their morals at times. In the case of Jackie Robinson West, Butler was too focused on winning and ended up compromising the integrity of his team. When adults are unable to put youth sports in perspective, the kids are the ones who really suffer.

By focusing so much on winning that he broke the rules and eventually sacrificed a championship title, Butler set a poor example for his team. Of course, winning is an essential part of athletics, but when it involves people who haven’t even hit puberty, it shouldn’t be the most important part. The curse of the overly involved adult lies in the fact that they damage the purity of the game at a young age. Whether it’s a coach who bends the rules or a parent who pushes too hard, adults have the ability to ruin sports for kids, as we are reminded by the Jackie Robinson West situation.