- MORESPORTS - Innocence lost? Hardly

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Friday, August 31
Updated: September 4, 5:34 PM ET
Innocence lost? Hardly

Here's your choice: Somebody wants to give you money based on the potential that someday you might be able to throw a baseball past a batter in front of thousands of live spectators and millions on television.

Danny Almonte
Danny Almonte's perfect game in the LLWS and no-hitter in the regional final will be stricken from the record books.
You can either take $2 million or $5,000. This is a difficult decision, so take your time.

If you're having trouble making this decision, here are the "rules" of your cultural setting. On one hand, you are supposed to represent all that is good and noble and character building. On the other hand, all of your teachers have told you, "It's not cheating if you don't get caught."

So, the ruling has come down. Danny Almonte is 14. Let the weeping begin. Little League will never be the same.

Innocence lost? I don't think so.

The world of highly competitive youth sport can be as sordid and cutthroat as any professional league. The difference is that we expect this behavior in the pros.

What do we, as a society, expect when we put these kids on the front pages of newspapers and as the lead story of nightly news telecasts and televise over 20 games of their tournament? What do we expect when we treat these kids like professionals and then require them to behave more adult than adults?

How twisted is it that we have to look at preteens for heroism?

Before we condemn Danny Almonte, his brother and his father, let's keep in mind that they most likely will be deported; and when they return to the Dominican Republic, the father, at least, faces a possible 3-5 year prison sentence.

Adrian Beltre
The Los Angeles Dodgers knew Adrián Beltré was underage when they signed him.
Why would he take such a risk? Why not ask Rafael Furcal, Adrián Beltré or Wilson Betemit? They all signed contracts to play in the Dominican Major League Baseball Academies before they were eligible. With the exception of Furcal, they claimed they were older than their real ages. Why not ask the Atlanta Braves or the Los Angeles Dodgers? They knew they were signing ineligible players.

The Almonte story is ultimately not about him. It's not even about the larger national and global sports culture. What it's about is expecting desperate people to subscribe to ethical values that they can't afford. The Almonte deception is nothing more than the "good foul" on a much larger scale.

Think about it. Your opponent has just "faked you out of your jock" and is gliding toward the easy basket. So you reach out and grab him. Your coaches and fans applaud you. The announcers commend the act. Your opponent expects it. But is it right?

This is what you have actually done. You have publicly stated that you are not willing to accept the fact that your opponent is better than you, that he's just beaten you. Instead of working harder on your skills for the next time, you take the easy way out. Or as the philosopher would put it, you've acted in your own prudent self-interest.

It happens in all sports all the time. Players are actually taught to behave this way and are then praised for being smart.

Those who act this way are smart. They have advanced their own cause. They have bettered themselves. They have maximized their chances of winning.

And, of course, they are wrong. We all know this, but we still do it. We've made our choice. We'd rather have the immoral win than the moral victory. We don't even think about it anymore.

So someone in the Almonte camp (most likely the father) decided it would better serve him to gain notoriety than to follow the rules. In the long run, if Danny Almonte stays healthy and realizes his potential, he will make millions of dollars in professional baseball. In the short run, in less than two years (if it has not already happened) an agent in the Dominican Republic will broker a deal so that this young man will be able to get the $2 million signing bonus rather than the typical $5,000 bonus.

This is a no-brainer.

The United States, including the sports culture in general and Little League in particular, revels in its reputation as the land of opportunity. Now, the system has been exploited. We can't handle the fact that the system was broken long before Danny Almonte ever showed up -- and that we broke it.

We can't deal with the fact that there are multiple ways to look at reality. Unless people behave with the manners of the middle-class, patriotic, Judeo-Christian ethic, we have a meltdown.

So a desperately poor, probably illiterate individual has perpetrated a scam on the system. Was it wrong? Sure. Was it good? For some, but certainly not for Little League and all the power brokers who bring you "innocence" from central Pennsylvania.

Rolando Paulino
Rolando Paulino, founder of the Rolando Paulino All-Stars Little League, is drawing a lot of attention these days.
In the balance, does the Rolando Paulino Little League represent that which is morally good? Yes. Will it continue to provide a safe haven for several hundred of the poorest children of the South Bronx? Absolutely. Should it be chastised for being careless? Most definitely.

It's not as if this hasn't happened before. In 1959, 1974 and 1992, Little League publicly dealt with this kind of problem. When you run a global enterprise, it will always be difficult, if not impossible, to have different cultures agreeing to one set of rules -- especially when those rules are made by the ones who already have the position of greatest advantage.

We could consider all of the economic, sociological and political conditions that influenced the events of the past three weeks and have heavy academic discussions about them. But ultimately it comes down to human beings. As Steven Stills sang, "Nobody's right, if everybody's wrong."

While it is true that some Little Leaguers dream of playing in the World Series at Williamsport, there are many others who dream differently. In many cases, these dreams are born out of a real life that is lived as a nightmare.

Danny Almonte and many young Dominicans with professional baseball potential dream of being able to afford food for their extended family and shoes for their feet and maybe, if they're lucky, a cinderblock house. Fame and glory or even an elementary school education would be extras.

And so before we all rush to judgment, consider this one fact -- the typical 16-year-old baseball student in the MLB academies of the Dominican Republic gains close to 30 pounds in his first three months.

Waking up hungry is something one never gets used to.

Professor Stephen D. Mosher is chairman of the Sport Studies department at Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y.


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