In Defense of the Little League World Series being on TV

I didn’t expect to write a post about the Little League World Series today, but, alas, current events have other plans. As you may have heard, the Jackie Robinson West Little League of Chicago has been stripped of it’s US Title for last year’s World Series, due to revelations that they used players from outside their district.

It’s a sad ending for what was an inspiring story- the first team in history to win the US title made up entirely of African-Americans, coming at a time when participation in the sport by African-Americans continues to drop and racial issues were increasingly in the news. It’s all the more sad because this was the result not of any child, but rather the adults.

And, with that, the many issues people have with youth sports again have arisen. Among them being that the LLWS being on television is, according to some people, an abomination that promotes behavior like this while exploiting 12-year-olds for profit.

In many ways, they do have a point. It is wrong that ESPN, it’s sponsors, and the overall organization of Little League make large amounts of money off 12-year-olds while those 12-year-olds receive no cut or royalty from it. And, yes, having that much pressure and attention placed on a kid is a recipe for possible disaster psychologically when you are so young. The Little League World Series is far from perfect, and at the very least something should be done to compensate the kids who draw in large audiences every year (perhaps have some sort of college trust fund or hold money in escrow or something).

However, I am here to argue that those people who believe that the Little League World Series doesn’t belong on television regardless are wrong. Go below the jump for more:

First off, there is the fact that it’s a big highlight of the LLWS experience for the kids. They love being on ESPN, having the same treatment given to them that is usually only reserved for the Robinson Canos and Mike Trouts of the world while being covered by the ESPN cavalcade of stars. It’s something the kids actually look forward to and are excited about. To take that away from them seems almost mean.

Secondly, the broadcasts of the games serve an important function for the kids’ friends and families. Not everybody can make the trip to Williamsport, but the fact the games are on TV means they can still follow their friend or relative live and in real time. In some cases- as with Jackie Robinson West (which led to areas of Chicago having outdoor viewing parties), it allows entire communities to embrace the teams in ways they never could if they merely read about the results the next day. Now, yes, I know, all this could be done with some sort of streaming service, but even today, that reach wouldn’t be as large as you would think.

Third, and connected to that, the fact that the games air on TV makes it possible for them to actually be seen in other countries later. I remember at one point in the LLWS there was a team from Eastern Europe playing. The games weren’t airing back in their home country, and none of their parents were able to make the trip due to cost and visa issues. However, the fact the games were being broadcast allowed them to record them and later show their friends and family back home the experience they had. And that’s a good thing.

Fourth, the kids in the LLWS are, in general, good role models and lessons for the youth who are watching. While surely they have been to a certain extent sanitized and some of the more cruel attributes that every child has are kept off screen, there are good lessons in the dedication of the players and the camaraderie they share not just with their teammates but with other teams- even those from entirely different countries! At times, they can even serve as inspirations: Mo’ne Davis, for example, has become an icon for young women who aim to play sports as well as an example for people who don’t want to just be pegged down to just one sport at such a young age (a commercial featuring her noted how she played baseball, basketball and soccer, for example). A romantic view? Perhaps. But a view with a bit of truth in it.

And, finally, the fifth and biggest reason: It’s not Little League’s fault that the games are on TV. Nor is it ESPN’s. For years, only the finals games were on, and the LLWS just went rolling along just fine. But guess what? People liked it and watched a lot of it, so slowly the LLWS TV coverage expanded. Soon, all of the games involving USA teams were aired. Then, eventually, it became the giant behemoth that it is now, where not only are all the Williamsport games shown on TV, but so are many of the USA qualifiers. It’s probably only a matter of time before we begin seeing the international qualifiers also featured on TV or through streaming.

And you want to know why?

It’s because “we” the audience have shown we like it by continuing to tune in. Much like how the NFL continues to get great ratings despite all of it’s controversies, what we say has not matched up with what we do. Twitter this morning- and Twitter during the LLWS itself- was filled with people decrying the event’s broadcast. So were plenty of other places around the internet. And yet, some of those same people were the ones who delivering their takes on Mo’ne-mania this past year, who voted her the Associated Press’ Female Athlete Of The Year for 2014, or who were among the many who marveled at the story that was the Jackie Robinson West team. And the viewers kept coming, as they will likely continue for 2015’s LLWS and for the years after.

So, in the end, perhaps the critics shouldn’t be blaming ESPN or Little League International for the fact that one of the summer’s spotlight events basically uses children for entertainment. Perhaps, instead, everyone who has a problem with the airing of the LLWS should blame society and the American viewing public… because without us, the LLWS is still something that only has one or two games aired every year.

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