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Feldman ’15: Little League, big pressure

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Opinions Columnist

As students get older, they often complain that their jobs or internships require long, arduous hours that take advantage of their need for experience and/or employment. These complaints usually don’t begin until high school at the very least, if not college. But for some 11- to 13-year-olds, this exploitation begins before many of their parents even allow them to stay home alone.

In 1939, Little League Baseball began in unassuming Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Carl Stotz started the league in his hometown to help teach local children about “sportsmanship, fair play and teamwork,” according to the Little League website. While the league still serves as a great opportunity for kids from all over the country and the world to come together to play a sport they love, it has spawned a tournament where prepubescent children are now burdened with the same pressures as professional athletes.

The Philadelphia Taney Dragons’ Mo’ne Davis is at the epicenter of all of this pressure. Davis is the first girl to ever pitch a complete game shutout and only the sixth to record a hit in the Little League World Series. Her athletic prowess has deservedly earned her fame, so much so that she became the youngest athlete to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated. But how much attention can we put on her until it becomes excessive? It’s not that she cannot handle the fame — she has done so, better than the vast majority of children or adults ever could — but how much attention should really be thrown at a 13-year-old child who is about to enter the eighth grade?

It’s one thing for Little Leaguers to celebrate their best ­— especially Davis, who has served as a national role model — but another entirely for adults to put so much pressure on her. When asked about her expectations for her newfound popularity, she said, “People were like, ‘Oh, there’s going to be people running up to you taking pictures,’ and I thought it was going to be a bunch of little kids. But it’s grown-ups! And that’s, like, creepy.”

Little League Baseball does attempt to alleviate some of those pressures by adhering to the initial ideals of sportsmanship. The teams that qualify for the LLWS are local teams that won their respective regional brackets. The players aren’t just a 12-person all-star team from a region — they are an actual local team of friends. Rules are also in place to ensure that everyone is given an equal chance to play, without anyone playing too much. Rules set a minimum number of times a player must bat while limiting the number of pitches and how often a pitcher can pitch in a game. However, Little League baseball must go beyond the rule book in order to truly aid these heavily scrutinized children.

The Little League World Series compensates the Little League teams’ participation with equipment, transportation and room and board, as well as the chance to play on an international stage. But, in return, the LLWS has a $76 million TV contract with ESPN over the next eight years. That’s not even including all the additional endorsement deals or the memorabilia and tens of thousands of tickets sold. Recently, Davis’ autographed baseballs were selling for as much as $500 on eBay.

This is not to say that 11- to 13-year-old children should all of a sudden get a salary for their efforts. The LLWS should be reinvesting some of its profits in the players to ensure the growth and safety of not just kids involved in the tournament but children across the entire country.

The simplest way to help LLWS participants is by allocating a portion of the proceeds into a college scholarship fund. If the well-being of the children participating is at the forefront, then the league should use some of this excess profit to help ensure its players’ continued success. Most of these players do not advance to professional baseball but instead will need to pursue other career options that often require a higher level of education. Reinvesting some of these profits in the playersby offering them college scholarships would make continued education a viable option.

The larger and more influential way to allocate these funds is sponsoring baseball initiatives in inner cities and impoverished communities. Sponsoring the growth of Little League baseball in communities that traditionally lack such activities could give kids a healthful, supervised extracurricular activity that could spur community development. Subsidizing such programs would also promote the initial ideals that Little League baseball stood for — children would be able to learn all about sportsmanship and teamwork. With the recent popularity of inner-city teams such as the Taney Dragons and the U.S. champion Chicago Jackie Robinson West, now is the perfect time to continue to aid these communities.

Hopefully a player like Davis can go on to achieve her dream of playing basketball at the University of Connecticut before eventually playing in the WNBA. But if not, the LLWS should be working to aid her growth by supporting her education and using her notoriety to give other children in communities across the country the same opportunities she has been fortunate enough to receive.

 

Andrew Feldman ’15 exclusively taunts professional athletes and can be reached at andrew_feldman@brown.edu with complaints about how your favorite professional team is being outplayed by 13-year-olds.

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One Comment

  1. Ellen Oppenheim says:

    Andrew, a well written commentary. What about all of the 11 to 13 year old child actors who gain such media attention? Does this not affect them? I agree about starting college funds for those inner city kids who need them. It opens up a plethora of questions as to how colleges are allocating scholarships? EOF

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