For years I’ve been wondering if the LLWS
should really be subjected to the kind of hype and coverage its gotten in recent years. The popularity of the event cannot be denied (why else would ESPN be covering little-league games that only qualify winners to be one of the teams sent to Williamsport?), but isn’t there something unseemly about subjecting 12- and 13-year-old children to the kind of media and tournament scrutiny usually reserved for professional athletes? Consider the following items:
[li]A player from the Staten Island team was caught swearing by a microphone ESPN had placed in the dugout during a tight game. The coach apparently slapped the boy for this (this is debatable; LLWS officials used video replay of the event to determine this), and the two were publically reprimanded during a LLWS press conference. This was not the only player swearing caught live this year, and ESPN has since decided it needs to put the contests on a five-second delay.[/li][li]The Oregon team is apparently made up of local All-stars–not unusual in preparation for the tournament–but so as to give this all-star team more time to prepare for the tournament the local little-league season was cut short (little league rules stipulate the length of the season, so time was taken from the regular season to allow the All-stars more time to practice together). Message received: If you aren’t good enough to win us a championship, we don’t want you.[/li][li]Apparel companies are giving the children free clothing and other items, using them to promote their sportswear lines. As part of this, the head of the Staten Island team has apparently called out local baseball figures George Steinbrenner and Alex Rodriguez for not giving enough money to the team. Young kids take note: You’re a marketable commodity now, so act like one.[/li][/ul]
This isn’t a rant about forcing kids to be competitors; competition can be a good thing, but not when it eclipses everything else, and when you’re all of 12 years old, there’s a lot of “else” to choose from. I fully expect that, if this trend continues, future kids will show up at Williamsport with personal agents hired by their parents, charge smaller kids $10 a pop for autographs, and send a few moments in the locker room before each game 'roiding up for the national TV audience (really, is drug testing of 12-year-old ballplayers that inconceivable with the trajectory we’re on?).
The hypocrisy of this is that I believe the LLWS is popular even among non-baseball fans because it is seen to be authentic. Instead of watching cynical ballplayers jogging out another routine ground ball, we can at least believe these kids want to win more than anything, that the emotions they often wear on their sleeve are genuine. Sadly, the natural popularity such youthful authenticity generates will soon crush it, and in a few years these kids will be the same pouting robots most professional players have beome, shuttled between home-practice-game, all the fun (and their childhood) leeched out by the time they turn five. Nice work, sport-obsessed parents, Little League Inc., and ESPN; now we know just how much the soul of our nation’s youth is worth.