Black player with cotton-like material in hair at LLWS sparks outrage

An incident involving Little League players which aired on ESPN prompted a strong reaction among a number of online observers on Monday as it went viral.

The scene showed a young black player sitting with a blank expression as his white teammates applied a cotton-like substance to his hair. As ESPN’s camera lingered on the moment during a nationally televised Major League Baseball game, network announcers shed some light on what they saw, but some who l saw expressed concern about what they felt was an act of racial insensitivity.

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It happened Sunday night during the 2022 MLB Little League Classic, a game between the Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox held at Historic Bowman Field in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. The 2,366-seat stadium is the site of the Little League World Series, which is being 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 in attendance for the Orioles-Red Sox game.

“During the broadcast of the MLB Little League Classic, a Midwestern player was shown with the stuffed animal filler donated during the game on his head,” Little League International said in a statement Monday. “After speaking with the team and reviewing photos, several players from the Midwest Region team attended while enjoying the game. As only one player appeared on the broadcast, Little League International understands the actions shown could be perceived as racially insensitive.

“We spoke with the player’s mother and the coaches, who assured us that there was no malicious intent behind the action shown on the broadcast.”

A manager for the Midwest team – which appears to be made up mostly of white players – declined to comment on Monday, saying Little League International had asked him to refer media inquiries to the youth baseball organization.

“We understand the sensitivities and are in contact with Little League organizers regarding the situation,” ESPN said in a statement Tuesday morning.

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Carolyn Hinds, a Toronto-based film critic and journalist, took issue with Little League International’s statement and reacted to the viral footage by Tweeter that it was “exactly what we think it is and some people need to take issue with”.

When reached later Monday by phone, Hinds said Little League officials had not “addressed the issue” featured in the clip. She wondered if the actions were “something that happens regularly with this team” and what kind of lessons about racial tolerance were passed down from the players’ parents.

On Tuesday, Davenport Southeast Little League (SELL), the Iowa-based parent organization for the team representing the Midwest region, released a statement in which it said its players were trying to “attempt to emulate the mohawk white of the star of the Hawaiian team”. player, who they think is a great baseball player with a very cool hairstyle.

Identifying the black child in question as second baseman Jeremiah Grise, the organization said ESPN’s cameras “did not show the boys putting stuffing on the heads of multiple players and Jeremiah laughing. and loving her new “look.”

SELL shared footage of Grise playing, with the stuff on her head, laughing and cheering.

“We are in no way trying to downplay 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 them understand why it was inappropriate – something neither of them realized or understood at the time. They understand it now, which gives them a life lesson that they will carry on.

Like other observers, Hinds had found several elements of the scene shocking, including the use of a material that closely resembled cotton – evoking associations with slave plantations in the United States and his native Barbados – and the lack of “respect for one’s bodily autonomy”.

“As a black person and a black woman, the very idea of ​​someone putting cotton wool in a black person’s hair immediately upset me,” Hinds said. “For us, the history of cotton itself is tumultuous.” Additionally, she claimed, black people are “very sensitive to who touches our hair.”

For another online commentatorthe sight of the child’s hair to which the fabric was attached touched a deeply personal chord.

Khari Thompson, a reporter for Boston sports radio station WEEI, explained by phone Monday that while growing up near Chicago in northwest Indiana, he was one of the few black kids in his various wards. class.

“I used to stand out with my difference, my hair, and people would try to touch it, play with it when I got on the school bus,” he said. “It got to a point where people were trying to hide change in my hair.”

“I just kind of took it,” he added, “because I felt very alone in my situation.”

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Those experiences gave Thompson enormous sympathy for the child in the clip, and for the 31-year-old reporter, it didn’t matter if, as Little League officials suggested, the white teammates not seen on camera suffered similar treatment.

“For a white child, sticking cotton in your hair – what images and story does that conjure up?” Thompson asked. “Yeah, sure, it’s fun. It’s nothing. But that’s not the case for someone like me or someone like him. … When you’re the only 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 painful to see … that nobody has done anything about it. It’s horrifying to me.

ESPN announcer Karl Ravech seemed to have a different reaction to what he was seeing.

“It’s just little leaguers being little leaguers right there,” Ravech said of the scene.

Hinds faulted the TV show’s producers for not cutting once it became apparent what was going on.

“They don’t look at these situations,” she said, “and come out on their own and say, ‘Is this a problem? They don’t say to themselves: “If it was my child, my friend’s child, my niece, would it be suitable for me? ”

The Midwest team is back in action on Tuesday, when they take on the Southwest region team in the consolation bracket of the tournament.

“The Little League World Series has been a unique experience for our boys and we hope everyone can focus on their great play, teamwork and sportsmanship on the field,” SELL said in its statement Tuesday. . “We’re asking everyone, including the media and online provocateurs, to please let these 12-year-olds be 12-year-olds.”

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