Written by Jeff Vorva
Photo by Jeff Vorva
Chris Janes has received more than his share of angry criticism since he and the Evergreen Park Athletic Association alleged that the Jackie Robinson West Little League team cheated by using players from outside its district.
Some anonymous Twitter tweeter called Evergreen Park’s Chris Janes a “scumbag.”
That’s one of the nicer things that’s been said about him in recent weeks. He’s also been referred online as a “sucky coach’’ a “tool” a “hater”, a “crybaby” a “loser” a “puke” and another word for a sex toy. One critic said “I feel sorry for his mother for birthing this rat.’’
Oh, and one person wrote Janes is on his way to becoming “the most hated man in America.”
Janes is a vice president and spokesman for the Evergreen Park Athletic Association and in mid-December his group provided documentation to the Little League organization that the beloved Jackie Robinson West team out of Chicago was using illegal players from out of the team’s boundaries.
Little League officials dismissed EP’s claims by saying the issue is “closed at this time” but now there are others digging into these allegations and now there are reports that league presidents within the district were unaware that JRW helped re-district the Chicago area to expand and allow them to pluck some star players from their leagues.
In some circles, EPAA officials are being portrayed as the bad guys and since Janes is the face of the organization on this matter, he also gets the bad guy treatment – big time. And since JRW is an all African-American team, his allegations have caused online arguments that show that there are still a few cavemen and cavewomen out there.
I had a chance last week to talk to him on the crunchy outfield grass at Norris Field – home of the EPAA – on an 18-degree day after shooting his photo. Jane said he knew what he was getting himself into, but said that he had no idea the magnitude of the negativity his group’s whistleblowing caused.
“There are so many different pieces to this that I probably underestimated how big of a deal it is,” he said. “I really thought people would be bigger than to bring the whole race thing into play. And it’s both sides of the fence. No side is more or less guilty than the other. I just wish people would stay on point and realize what this really about.’’
He said he hasn’t seen all the nastiness shoveled his way, but early in the process his inbox was getting toxic.
“I got a lot of e-mails when this first came out,” he said. “They told me I should be ashamed of myself. They said I was an idiot. They said I should resign. They said I wasn’t a good role model for kids. I haven’t seen too much of [online and social media criticism] and I’m glad because people can hide behind the anonymity of a screen name and the power of the keyboard.’’
Janes said the organization has heard about possible JRW cheating for years but after the team won the national championship and became America’s darlings, information spilled out that some of the players were from suburbs such as Homewood and South Holland.
After Janes and his group researched articles and rules, he volunteered to be the EPAA’s lone spokesman on the allegations and things blew up when the DNAinfo.com website wrote a huge story on his allegations and published it Dec. 16.
He was criticized for the timing of the story breaking.
“We took our time in gathering as many facts as we could,’’ Janes said. “We realized what the backlash could be and the most important, we wanted to make sure we weren’t wrong. That would be worse than anything. That's why we stood behind this. Regardless of what anybody might say or what the ultimate decision is going to be, we feel we’re right and we will stand behind it all day.
“We feel that somebody cheated and we have enough evidence to prove that.”
He said that for the Little League “to gloss over this is frustrating” but there is a glimmer of hope if some other organizations and league presidents begin to speak up.
I don’t think he should be taking as much heat as he has. People around the country who analyze this with an open mind realize that EPAA might have a point and it should be looked into.
As one of many parents whose kids have been recipients of beatdowns because of alleged cheating, I applaud the guy. He and his organization may not be viewed as heroes for this but I admire the way they have stepped up and gone about this.
When my son was playing in the seventh-grade AAU basketball circuit, there was a team that we had a hunch was using high school players. They would kick our teeth in and trash talk us to death. Oh, boy – you are beating up on kids three or four years younger than you. Tough guys.
One day, two or three coaches saw one of the team’s “seventh graders” driving to the tournament.
The coaches brought it to the attention to the AAU official on site and his reaction was “That doesn’t mean anything, I drove a truck when I was 8.’’
The kid should have been thrown out of the tournament or cited for underage driving.
I was more angry with the AAU clown’s reaction than I was the alleged cheating and I was pretty fired up about that, too.
I know that if that same team was on TV, newspapers and meeting President Obama and became America’s heroes, I would have probably thrown up.
As an aside, when our group played in eighth grade, the same team was missing those players and a couple of the “seventh graders” were listed as juniors on high school rosters.
Even though people say Janes is advocating that JRW should be stripped of its trophy, he said that’s not the case.
“At the end of the day, I could care less if they lose a trophy or not – that doesn’t matter,’’ he said. “What matters is that someone is held accountable. These adults did this. This is wrong and it can’t go on. That’s all I want to see.
“They can keep the trophy –the kids earned that on the field.’’