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Jackie Robinson West shows ‘real swag’

Updated: September 28, 2014 6:30AM



There’s “swag” — and then there’s “real swag.”

For instance, just about any fool can show up in sagging pants, bragging about a record deal, and kids will think he’s got swag.

But this year’s U.S. Little League champions showed us what real swag looks like.

Because the Jackie Robinson West All-Stars and their families were thrust in the media spotlight, black youth have a model for what swag or swagger should be about.

These 11- and 12-year-old boys, who are now being treated like rock stars, are as smart as they are athletic, and as respectful as they are talented.

That’s why every time the Jackie Robinson West team ran out on the field, I wanted to hold up a sign that read: “I am JRW.”

And coaches, Jason Little and Jerry Houston, the father of Joshua Houston (whose excellent pitching helped his team get to the championship game) gave America a snapshot of the black America that is often overlooked.

“You made our city and country proud,” tweeted President Barack Obama after Saturday’s game.

Real Swag is earned through hard work and sacrifice.

Because these fathers invested the time and energy that ought to be invested in our children, they got to see their sons go further than any of them were able to go at the youth level.

For instance, Dennis Butler, the father of JRW Manager Darold Butler and grandfather of second-baseman D.J. Butler, started playing Little League baseball at 8-years-old in CHA’s Altgeld Gardens and didn’t reach the national championships.

Butler was at the practice field or in the stands for every game in Williamsport, Pa., often wearing a black and white t-shirt with the #42 — the late Jackie Robinson’s uniform number.

“I hope this championship ignites our community into beginning to be involved with their sons, and helping them stay out of trouble, and motivate them to want to get good grades in school so that they can play ball,” the elder Butler said.

The Jackie Robinson West Little League All-Stars have “real swag” because they aren’t just athletes.

They are students who consistently bring home A’s and B’s.

Christopher Green, the father of catcher Brandon Green, told me he doesn’t even want his son to feel like he’s the best, but wants him to keep striving.

The love these men have for their boys isn’t something that shows up only on birthdays and Christmas.

It is there every single day.

What these Little League fathers are doing is what all fathers are supposed to do.

But frankly, if more black men were raising their sons with that kind of love, we wouldn’t be trying to figure out how to end the violence.

Unfortunately, too many black kids have been tricked into thinking having “swag” means having the latest cell phone or street gear, or being the most feared kid on the block.

The Jackie Robinson West All-Stars also reminded us that we can’t forget to encourage the kids who are doing what we’ve asked them to do.

These players were the underdogs when they showed up in Williamsport. After a devastating early loss to the Nevada team, I thought they could just give up on reaching championship play.

But the Jackie Robinson West All-Stars knew better — and so did their fans.

By the time the U.S. championship game was played, there wasn’t a gold and blue Great Lakes hat, jersey, or wristband to be found.

One very special moment at the Little League World Series crystallized what makes this team so special.

It came after Sunday’s losing battle against the Asia-Pacific Region.

At the last out, the team headed toward the dugout. Trey Hondras, who was walking alongside the team’s manager, Darold Butler, had his head down.

Without words, Butler reached over and gently lifted his player’s head.

That’s real swag.



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