A year and a day ago, Chicago-based Jackie Robinson West Little League was stripped of its Little League Baseball U.S. championship. Now the parents and coaches who were called out for manipulating residency loopholes in the Little League registration system are fighting back, and ESPN and talking head Stephen A. Smith are two of the primary targets.
As noted by our USA TODAY Sports Media Group friends at The Big Lead, parents and coaches filed suit against a host of different parties on Thursday, with counts of defamation and false light aimed at both Stephen A. Smith and ESPN, his employer. You can read the full text of the filing right here.
The counts are in reference to an episode of First Take, where Smith eviscerated the Jackie Robinson West leaders, going so far as to intimate that he was ashamed a league named after Jackie Robinson would have perpetrated fraudulent roster manipulation. According to the suit filed in Cook County court in Illinois, Smith “directly accused the JRW parents of perpetrating a fraud against the Little League.”
In fact, Smith’s language was quite a bit more vitriolic than that:
“I’d like to see it again … let’s put Darold Butler and Michael Kelly’s face up on television, treat it like the mugshot it deserves to be treated like,” Smith said on First Take, as you can see below.
An ESPN spokesman told The Chicago Tribune that it had not seen the lawsuit so it would be inappropriate to comment.
The Jackie Robinson West suit — brought by the parents of 13 players, including two parents who were coaches — also brings claims against Little League itself, the Chicago-area whistleblower who initially reported the league for its residency manipulation and a former official of the Jackie Robinson West league. Still, it’s the claims against Smith and ESPN that are sure to generate the most headlines. Regardless of final result, simply bringing the suit shines a light back on those who criticized Jackie Robinson West, even if they did so fairly of their own accord.