Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Lights, camera, misbehavior

The death of innocence is never a pretty thing.  And that's especially true when it dies in such tiny increments no one notices until the corpse has been cold for some time.

Which brings us to Little League, and the Jackie Robinson West team from Chicago, and the banal nature of corruption.

The news that Little League was stripping JRW of its U.S. title will evoke no cries of "Is nothing sacred?" here, because at its highest levels Little League hasn't been sacred for some time. In 2015, after all, it's just another made-for-TV spectacle, slickly packaged and given over to the full ESPN treatment. And to the innately corrupting influence of that treatment.

No one in Little League had corruption in mind when it let ESPN into the Little League World Series some years ago, but it was pretty much unavoidable. Whatever innocence there was to the concept of kids from all over the world playing baseball vanished as soon as that first camera went live. TV changes everything, even as inviolable a thing as baseball. And so the lights went on, and the LLWS became a vehicle for celebrity instead of what it was meant to be, which is a game played for the game's own immeasurable sake.

This is especially dismaying when the celebrities who get caught in the glare of the lights are 12 years old. Twelve-year-olds were never meant for the full ESPN treatment, but they're getting it now. And so are their coaches, who got involved not to become TV stars but simply because they loved the game and they loved kids. The juxtaposition of those two things -- pure motives and manufactured celebrity -- never comes out well.

There's no way to know for sure just how much the lure of the TV lights factored into Jackie Robinson West 's illegal padding of its roster, but it would be foolish to think it didn't wield influence on some level. Even if it was all just about Getting To Williamsport, that means something irretrievably different than it used to. Now it means Getting On ESPN, too.

With all that entails. Good and bad.

Mostly, it says here, the latter.

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