It happened on Sunday evening during the 2022 MLB Little League Classic, a game between the Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox staged at Historic Bowman Field in Williamsport, Pa. The 2,366-seat stadium is the site of the Little League World Series, which is being held. televised by ESPN. The children seen in the viral clip were players from the Davenport, Iowa area, who represent the Midwest region in the 12-and-under tournament and were present for the Orioles-Red Sox game.
“During the broadcast of the MLB Little League Classic, a Midwest player was shown with a stuffed animal given away at the game on his head,” Little League International said Monday in a statement. “After speaking with the team, as well as reviewing photos, several players from the Midwest Region team participated in this while enjoying the game. Because only one player appeared in the broadcast, Little League International understands that the actions shown could be perceived as racial insensitive
“We spoke with the player’s mother and the coaches, who assured us that there was no ill intent behind the action shown during the broadcast.”
An official with the Midwest team – which appears to be put together primarily of white players — declined to comment Monday, saying he had been asked by Little League International to refer media inquiries to the youth baseball organization.
“We understand the sensitivities and are in contact with Little League organizers about the situation,” ESPN said in a statement Tuesday morning.
Against Little League International’s statement was Carolyn Hinds, a Toronto-based film critic and journalist who reacted to the viral footage with chirping that it was “just what we think it is and some people need to be taken to task.”
When reached later Monday by phone, Hinds said Little League officials had not “addressed the issue” depicted in the clip. She wondered if the actions were “something that happens regularly with this team,” and what lessons about racial tolerance were being taught by the players’ parents.
On Tuesday, Davenport Southeast Little League (SELL), the Iowa-based parent organization for the squad representing the Midwest Region, issued a statement in which it said its players were “trying to imitate the white mohawk of the star player of the Hawaii team, who they think is a great baseball player with a very great hairstyle.”
Identifying the Black kid in question as second baseman Jeremiah Grise, the organization stated that the ESPN cameras “did not show the boys putting stuffing on the heads of multiple players and of Jeremiah laughing and loving his new ‘look’.”
SELL shared pictures of Grise playing, with the substance on his head, laughing and cheerful.
“We are in no way trying to minimize the racial insensitivity of the boys’ actions and apologize for any harm caused by this video,” SELL continued. “We spoke to the boys to help educate them on why it was inappropriate – which none of them realized or understood at the time. They understand it now, giving them a life lesson that they will carry forward.”
As with some other observers, Hinds found several elements of the scene humorous, including the use of material that closely resembled cotton—evoking associations with slaveholding plantations in the United States and in her native Barbados—and the lack of “respect for his. bodily autonomy. “
“As a Black man, and a Black woman, just the whole idea of somebody putting cotton in some Black man’s hair immediately upset me,” Hinds said. “For us, the history of cotton itself is tumultuous.” Besides, she claimed, black people are “very sensitive about which touches our hair.”
For another online a commentatorthe sight of the child’s hair having the material tied to it struck a deeply personal chord.
Khari Thompson, a reporter at Boston sports radio station WEEI, explained by phone Monday that while he was growing up near Chicago in northwest Indiana, he was one of the few Black kids in his diverse classrooms.
“I used to stand out because of how different I looked, how different my hair looked, and people would try to touch it, play with it when I rode the school bus,” he said. “It got to a point where people would try to hide a loose change in my hair.”
“I just took it,” he added, “because I felt very alone in my situation.”
Those experiences gave Thompson immense sympathy for the kid in the clip, and for the 31-year-old reporter, it didn’t matter much if, as Little League officials suggested, white teammates not seen on camera experienced similar treatment.
“To a White child, putting cotton in your hair – what images and history does that conjure up?” Thompson asked. “Yeah, sure, it’s fun. There is nothing. But that’s not the case for someone like me or someone like him. … When you’re the one person who looks like you and has hair like you, it has a different meaning.”
“It’s up to the adults to do something about it,” he added, “and it’s really distressing to see … that no one has done anything about it. That’s terrible to me.”
ESPN announcer Karl Ravech seemed to have a different reaction to what he saw.
“That’s just Little Leaguers right there,” Ravech said of the scene.
Hinds blamed the producers of the telecast for not cutting off after it became apparent what had happened.
“They don’t look at these situations,” she said, “and step outside themselves and say, ‘Is this a problem?’ They don’t think to themselves, ‘If this was my child, my friend’s child, my niece, would I be okay with this?’ “
The Midwest team returns to action on Tuesday when it faces the Southwest Region squad in the tournament’s consolation bracket.
“The Little League World Series was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our boys and we hope everyone’s focus can return to their great play, teamwork and sportsmanship on the field,” SELL said in his statement Tuesday. “We’re asking everyone, including the media and internet provocateurs, to please let these 12-year-olds be 12-year-olds.”