Sunday, May 31, 2015

The 606

My old neighborhood of Humboldt Park is in the news again.

This coming Saturday, June 6 to be exact, a new park, actually several of them connected by a trail will open in Chicago. Officially called The 606 Trail (after the three digits of Chicago's zip code), the system of parks was built along an old railroad spur that ran along Bloomingdale Avenue, two blocks north of North Avenue. The trail will run approximately three miles, from Ridgeway Avenue on the west, to Ashland on the east. In its day, the spur serviced several light industrial complexes that were built adjacent to it.

As a child I lived on Humboldt and Cortland, one block north of the railroad line. Even back in the sixties, it was somewhat rare to see trains rumble over its tracks. Despite Humboldt being zoned a residential boulevard, beside the Bloomingdale line there were two good sized businesses, a cartage company on the west side of the boulevard, and a glass company on the east. Bordering the playground of my elementary school a block away was the Acme Casket Company whose windowless north wall was perfectly suited as the backstop for our games of fast pitch.

It's structures like these, or the remnants of them, that the users of the new 606 Trail will pass as they stroll, hike, jog or bike along its paths. Much like the park built upon the site of the old Stearns Quarry in Bridgeport, now called Palmisano Park, the new trail takes advantage of the old industrial landscape it is built upon, rather than obscuring it. This is clearly NOT your grandfather's park. As you might imagine, the trail/park is not for everyone.

I for one, can't be more excited about its opening. As pointed out in the video accompanying Blair Kamin's piece about the 606, the trail is elevated only fifteen feet, but in a city as flat as Chicago, that height makes a difference. The view along the trail will be completely new to residents of this city, (except for railroad workers and those who snuck onto the tracks for whatever reason). It passes through portions of this city that are often overlooked, namely the industrial backbone that drove this city for over a century. Much of that backbone been lost due to changing economies and technologies, but I'm sure the stroll along the 606, if one pays attention, will enlighten the visitor on how cities change and reinvent themselves. Even the peeling paint of those old fast pitch strike zones on the sides of decaying buildings will have a story or two to tell.

Supporters of the project boast about the positive impact the trail will have upon the property values in the communities it transverses. But that's a double edged sword; good news for working property owners, bad news for renters who will face rent increases, home owners on fixed incomes who will face property tax hikes, and in this particular case, ethnic groups who are sensitive to the dilution of their numbers as a result of residents being priced out of their neighborhoods. The trail will provide a pedestrian highway from the transformed, up-scale neighborhoods of Wicker Park and Bucktown on the east, to the lower income neighborhoods comprising the community of Humboldt Park on the west. As we saw with the neighborhood objections to a large music festival in Humboldt Park, the new influx of well-heeled visitors from the re-gentrified east may not be welcomed with open arms by all the residents of the communities to the yet-to-be-re-gentrified west.

It's anybody's guess how this will all play out, my guess is the trail will contribute to the change that has been going on in these communities for the past generation. In other words it will be good for some, not so good for others, but in the end it will hopefully attract people, interest and investment into a community that sorely needs it.

Will Humboldt Park lose its soul because of the changes that have been taking place? I think my friend Francis Morrone brilliantly addresses that question in this editorial piece that appears in today's New York Daily News. His article is about New York but it applies to Chicago as well.

As I've stated in this space before, the only constant you can depend upon in a living, breathing city, is change.

Chicago's new park will reflect and be a direct part of that change at the same time, which is both exciting and terrifying.

That's what life in the big city is all about, isn't it?

Here is a link to the mission statement of the lead artist of the 606 project, Frances Whitehead.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Humboldt Park, again

From DNA Chicago, here is a piece about the conception and building of the Humboldt Park inland beach that the Chicago Park District has decided not to open this year. You'll find within that piece, a link to an article from the Chicago Tribune, dated June 10, 1973 describing the plans for the conversion of the century old lagoon into a beach, as well as a photograph showing the dredging of the lagoon to make way for the beach. 

I remember it well. My family left Humboldt Park in 1968, but on ocasion my father and I still visited the park where we used to spend our Sunday afternoons together.

We paid a visit as the dredging work was underway. It was a scene that nearly broke my heart. As the water was drained from the lagoon, neighborhood residents were invited to harvest the thousands of fish who once inhabited the lagoon. In a scene that could best be described as resembling Sebastio Salgado's photographs of the mines of Serra Pelada in Brazil, hundreds of individuals, covered head to toe in mud, plodded through the former bed of the lagoon, plucking the helpless fish, mostly carp, out of the remaining puddles of water in which they were stranded. The fish not "lucky" enough to find a small pocket of water to briefly keep them alive, suffocated as they lay in the mud. The sight, smell and pathos of the scene is something I will never forget.

For my father and me, it was the end of Humboldt Park as we knew it; I don't recall the two of us ever visiting it again together.

According to the DNA Chicago piece, the new beach was an instant success, drawing up to 20,000 on peak days, flying in the face of my memories of having never seen more than a handful of people using the facility. Mayor Richard J. Daley promised that more beaches similar to Humboldt Park's would be built, but in the end, only one came to be, that one in Douglas Park, another west side park that is virtually the mirror image of Humboldt. That beach closed sometime in the 1990s with little fanfare.

The article implies that City Hall broke its promise to the city by not building more of the inland beaches. As I pointed out in my previous post, an inland beach is a tremendously expensive venture, as well as environmentally unsound and destructive to the historical integrity of the parks where they would have been built. As the seventies, the nadir for historical preservation came to a close, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the idea of building these inland beaches in our historic parks, lost its appeal.

In my opinion, we can be thankful for that.

Much of the strong sentiment for keeping the Humboldt Park beach open comes from the fact that building it in the first place was a hard fought battle waged by the Puerto Rican community who still has strong ties to the park and the neighborhood, despite the re-gentrification that has been taking place for the last generation.

There has been resistance to the changes going on in the community. One recent effort has been the successful eviction of an annual event called Riot Fest, a Punk Music festival and carnival that has taken place for the last three years in Humboldt Park. Last year, rainy weather combined with record crowds took their toll on the park. The organizers of the traveling festival held in several cities across the country, agreed to pay the city for the cleanup of the park to the tune of $182,000.

The opposition to Riot Fest led by Alderman Robert Maldonado and a group calling itself Humboldt Park Citizens Against Riot Fest, cited the festival's taking over virtually the entire park for their activities.

Charlie Billups, a spokesman for the citizen's action group said:
We cannot allow big corporations that are making a lot of money to have blanket access to the parks.
The group also cited "ecological damage to the park" as another of its grievances.

In an attempt to ingratiate the folks who wanted them out, the producers of Riot Fest offered to contribute $30,000 toward the effort to keep the Humboldt Park Beach open.

The opponents of the festival weren't moved by the offer (30K being a mere drop in the bucket compared to the one million dollar annual upkeep for the beach) and last week, it was announced that the festival will be moved to Douglas Park.

Although they overstate the ecological damage, I entirely agree with the citizen group's concerns about the festival taking over the park in mid-September, both for the event itself, then the subsequent cleanup time. Despite the indisputable money the festival brings into the community, it is simply wrong to close off a public park to accommodate a privately sponsored event that charges admission for the privilege of entering the park.

Unfortunately some of the community's objections to Riot Fest are troubling. It is understandable that the Puerto Rican community has concerns that many of its members are being priced out of Humboldt Park neighborhoods. Along those lines, there have been comments that imply that much of the objection from the community toward Riot Fest has to do with the fact that it attracts non-Puerto Ricans to the park.

This quote is taken off a Facebook post from a group (or possibly an individual) calling itself "Chicago Puerto Rican Community":
Now that the Riot fest has been taken out of Humboldt Park those in heavy favor of the fest lashed out and said that Humboldt Park is not Puerto Rican and even threaten to have our alderman kicked out in favor of someone that will side with those that want Puerto Ricans Gone. (emphasis mine)
The Puerto Rican community certainly has left its mark on the neighborhood. Totems of la comunidad Boriqua were erected on Division Street (which runs through the park) in the form of two enormous sculptures a half mile apart representing the Puerto Rican flag. The street between the sculptures has been dubbed Paseo Boriqua. In a couple weeks following a parade downtown, a huge festival commemorating Puerto Rican Day will fill Humboldt Park as it has for nearly forty years. The Institute of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture is housed in the park's ornate Stables and Receptory Building.

Humboldt Park unquestionably remains the heart of Chicago's Puerto Rican community.

In my previous post, I described the annual Polish Constitution Day Parade that ended up in Humboldt Park at the base of the statue of Tadeusz Kościuszko where a huge celebration took place. For many years, Humboldt Park was the center of Chicago's Polonia. Before that it was the heart of other communities as testified by the monuments and institutions in and around the park. The Norwegian American Hospital, where I was born, borders the park. The apartment building and immediate neighborhood where my mother lived between 1940 and 1968 were predominantly Jewish. The church down the block where my son and I were both baptized was built by Irish Catholics. The city's most beautiful Russian Orthodox Cathedral, Holy Trinity, designed by Louis Sullivan is a few blocks east of the park as is the community known as Ukrainian Village. The park itself was named for the German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, and much of what we know of it was designed by a man from Denmark.

Statue of the Norse explorer Leif Ericson looking toward the East Lagoon
of Humboldt Park.
Noting the pride of the Norwegian Community who is responsible for the statue,
the boulder upon which he stands is inscribed:
"Leif Ericson, Discoverer of America."

Yet no one would have ever dreamt of calling Humboldt Park, Polish, or Norwegian, or Danish, Jewish, Irish, Russian, Ukrainian or German, even though all those groups left indelible marks on the community.

The Puerto Rican community continues to be a vital and integral part of Humboldt Park and its environs but no, Humboldt Park is NOT Puerto Rican, because no one group can legitimately claim exclusive rights to it.

Simply put, Humboldt Park, as is the case with all our public parks, belongs to everyone.

The discussion of the future of the beach, much like the discussion over Riot Fest, has been framed around the context of socio-economic justice and race. Along those lines, the inevitable rhetoric over money spent on downtown parks, (namely the new Maggie Daley Park), versus neighborhood parks has been voiced. But all this is little more than demagoguery; the real issue regarding the inland beach is finding the practical means, and a legitimate rationale to keep open an enormously expensive amenity used by relatively few people for only three months of the year.

So far, no one has come up with the dough or short of that, a credible reason to choose the beach over the other essential features of Humboldt Park. My prediction is that the beach will remain closed this summer and a potential impasse between the community and the Park District will keep the twenty acres of Humboldt Park devoted to the beach, drained and useless to anyone for the foreseeable future.

The only winners in that scenario would be a handful of activists who will claim bragging rights for having stood up to the Park District.

If that happens, it would be a terrible waste of a precious resource.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Humboldt's Folly

The Humboldt Park Beach as it looks nine months out of the year. 
It seemed like a good idea at the time. Take half of the Humboldt Park lagoon and transform it into an inland beach. Instead of the dangerous age-old practice of opening up fire hydrants on blistering hot days, a new beach would provide the residents of the community a safe place to get cool relief from the summer heat. It would give kids a place to go during summer vacation, keeping them off the streets and out of trouble. And in true Chicago fashion, it would be a bone to throw at a community that was growing impatient about being ignored and disenfranchised.

My mother wasn't buying any of it. A resident of the Humboldt Park community since 1940, my mom had a great fondness for the park, its history and its beauty. Upon that lagoon she was a passenger on countless row boat rides in the summertime. She learned to skate as I did upon its frozen water in the winter. She'd stroll as a teenager, later as a mother pushing me in a stroller along the park's miles of paths along the lagoons, prairie river, and the artesian well that fed them. In her youth, the park was accessible day and night when people in the neighborhood would bring chairs, sit, and discus the affairs of the world until the wee hours. Some brave souls would even camp out all night to escape the summer heat in the days before air conditioning. Humboldt Park in the forties, still retained most of what made it one of the crown jewels of Chicago's park system.

That nighttime tradition was long gone, but another was still going strong when I arrived on the scene and lived three blocks from Humboldt Park in the sixties. A regal equestrian statue of the Polish (and American Revolutionary War) hero Tadeusz Kościuszko stood proudly near the north entrance to the park. Every year, on the Sunday closest to May 3rd, a parade would pass in front of our home on Humboldt Boulevard. It was Chicago's annual Polish Constitution Day parade, which would terminate at the base of the Kościuszko monument. There, politicians of all ethnic stripes gathered to address the assembled throngs of Chicago's Polonia. It was at one of these celebrations, most likely in 1966 or 1967, where upon my father's shoulders, I caught my first glimpse of the ruddy complexion of Mayor Richard J. Daley, and my one and only glimpse of Senator Robert F. Kennedy who made an annual pilgrimage to the festivities in front of that magnificent 1904 statue, the work of Kasimir Chodzinski.

Polish Constitution Day festivities, Humboldt Park, 1935. The lagoon
that was replaced by the current beach is visible in the background, behind the monument.
The monument was moved to its current location on Northerly Island in 1978.
(photographer unknown)
By the seventies, much had changed. Due to neglect both from the city, and the users of the park, Humboldt Park started to become rough around the edges. Trash carelessly strewn about was not collected, park buildings were vandalized and boarded up, and the statues of Alexander von Humboldt, Leif Ericson and Kościuszko, symbols of the ethnic communities who once called Humboldt Park home, were covered in graffiti.

Eventually the park became rotten to the core as gang violence, drug deals, prostitution, and the detritus that followed them, became as much a part of the park's landscape as Jens Jensen's prairie river, the Schmidt Garden and Martin boat house/refectory and the two Edward Kemeys bison that stand guard in front of the rose garden. No one in their right mind would dare venture into the park after dark, unless they were looking for drugs, sex or trouble. To many residents of the city even to this day, the words Humboldt Park evoke danger and despair.

Part of my mother's attitude about the inland beach which was built in 1973, was just sour grapes. She re-affirmed those feelings of long ago the other day when she told me she always felt the project was unnecessary as she got along just fine growing up without a beach in Humboldt Park. Why on earth she felt, couldn't the people living there at the time do the same? After all, there were plenty of other amenities in the park, including a perfectly functioning swimming pool. If folks had the urge to stick their toes in the sand, the beaches of Lake Michigan were a just short bus ride away; heck in a pinch, you could even walk there and back as she did many times in her youth.

But I think her feelings went deeper than that. The decline of the neighborhood where she spent her formative years and beyond, hit my mother harder than she ever let on. Back when the idea of replacing the lagoon with a beach was made public, she intimated that the people in the community who did not care enough about the park to take care of it or at the very least, pick up their own trash, had no business making demands to change it. In those days as an idealistic teenager, I thought her feelings were harsh, inflexible, and mixed with a touch of intolerance toward the community. After all, the whole world had changed since 1940, not just Humboldt Park.

Restored walk along lagoon and the most iconic building of Humbolt Park,
the Boat House and Refectory, May, 2015
Like I said, to me the inland beach seemed like a good idea.

Of course at the time, I had little understanding of the history and architecture of the park. Humboldt Park and its two sister west side parks, Garfield and Douglas Parks, were laid out back in the late 1860s. Their first architect was William LeBaron Jenney, most famous for being credited, at least here in Chicago, as the father of the skyscraper. Jenny's designs for the parks, much of them never realized, were very much based around the lagoons, with water comprising up to fifty percent of the area of his plans.

The man who today is most associated with these three great parks, is Jens Jensen, a native of Denmark, whose first job in the Chicago parks was as a laborer in Humboldt Park. Through hard work and talent with all things horticultural, Jensen quickly worked his way up the ladder to become that park's superintendent, only to find himself out of a job when he refused to play along with the corrupt administrators who were running the west side parks. His unemployment didn't last long, Jensen was soon re-instated and ultimately became the superintendent of Chicago's West Park District, this in the days before the umbrella organization, the Chicago Park District, back when the city's parks were governed by several smaller administrative bodies.

Build it and they will come: planting natural flora
in a park will inevitably attract natural fauna.
Case in point, this Great blue heron looking for
his dinner in the Humboldt Park lagoon. 
Jens Jensen fell in love with the landscape of his adopted home in the American Midwest. The plans for his parks called for features that embraced the local prairie landscape rather than rejecting it as was the custom of the day. Unlike his contemporaries, Jensen did not believe that he could improve upon nature. As landscape architect, he was particularly adamant about the use of native plants and materials in his designs. Jensen described the philosophy of his art in these words:
Every plant has fitness and must be placed in its proper surroundings so as to bring out its full beauty. Therein lies the art of landscaping.
Beyond Jens Jensen's philosophical ideals of reflecting nature by using native materials, there is a pragmatism to his approach as native species require little human intervention to keep them thirving. Long before the word "sustainability" crept into the common lexicon, Jensen's landscapes with their native species of plants which attracted and sustained native species of animals, required little maintenance compared to the work of his contemporaries featuring exotic plants which required constant attention. Jensen's landscapes, literally grew themselves.

That is certainly not the case with an inland beach. When the word came out last week that the Chicago Park District does not intend to open the beach this summer, they cited the astronomical cost it takes to sustain it. Water that supplies the beach has to be continually pumped in, filtered,  and chlorinated in order to make it safe for swimmers. Unlike a swimming pool, the used water in an inland beach cannot be recycled, it all ends up in the sewer. Sand, which is imported from the Indiana Dunes also has to be continually replenished. By the Park District's estimate, the cost of sustaining the Humboldt Park inland beach is about one million dollars per year.

Simply put, an inland beach is not only ecologically unsound, but financially impractical as well,  As the terrible state of the finances of the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois force drastic cuts in the operating budgets for each park, serious choices have to be made.

Unfortunately the Chicago Park District did itself no favors with it's tactic of not publicly announcing its plans to keep the beach closed this summer. Instead they chose to keep their cards close to the vest in the hope that by keeping the issue out of sight and mind, no one would notice the fact that the beach simply wasn't going to open this year.

Well the community did notice and not surprisingly, its members were not happy.

At a public meeting, hastily convened at the Humboldt Park Fieldhouse adjacent to the beach last week, Park District officials enumerated their reasons for not opening the beach, and community members expressed their reasons to keep it open. The PD folks suggested the money could be better spent in other ways that would keep the residents of the community happy and wet. They were figuratively speaking, booed off the stage.

It's a bitter pill to swallow for a community to have something taken away from them, but the Park District has compelling reasons to shut the beach down.

I don't have numbers to back this up, but from my personal experience, the Humboldt Park Beach never seemed to be heavily used. In the considerable time I've spent in the park, I rarely saw more than a handful of folks use it at any given time, it was in fact not unusual to see as many lifeguards on duty as visitors. Now this is not necessarily a bad thing. I've stated before that a park's success should not be measured entirely upon the number of people who use it. In fact, sometimes the exact opposite should be a factor, as one of the joys of a city park is being able to escape the maddening crowds. However given the tremendous expense and amount of land devoted to the this one amenity which is open for only 90 days out of the year, it may be hard to justify keeping the beach. On the 275 days every year when the beach is closed, the area taking up dozens of acres of precious parkland is partially fenced off, and resembles a construction zone. Combined with the mechanical equipment necessary to keep the beach running, for three quarters of a year, this considerable chunk of real estate in Humboldt Park is a no-man's land, and an eyesore,

Then there is the historical significance and the architectural integrity of Humboldt Park. Much work has been done in the past decade to restore Jens Jensen's Prairie River back to its original splendor. Unfortunately, the waters of the river have to be restricted by a levee in order to avoid mingling with the the beach water. Other smaller lagoons to the north and east which once were part of the greater lagoon, have been closed off as well. These transitions are ugly and disrupt the continuity of the system of lagoons and rivers that were so carefully planned by Jenny and later Jensen.

Lagoon split in half: on the levee that separates the waters of the restored prairie river, right, from the beach,
Of course most users of parks are not concerned about historical significance and architectural integrity, they are interested in the amenities that cater to their needs. This is entirely reasonable, as a public park is many things to many people. For that reason, our parks are the most democratic of all our public spaces. Jens Jensen, Frederick Law Olmsted, Alfred Caldwell, and all the great landscape architects responsible for our parks understood this.

My son and I visited our old stomping grounds this past Sunday. As he went off to play basketball, I ran into a friend who was exploring the nooks and crannies of the park with his daughter, as I did with my children and my parents did with me. As I continued my own exploration, I came in contact with people of different ages, ethnicities and tax brackets. They were engaged in all sorts of activities: fathers playing soccer with their kids, families picnicking, old men (and a heron) fishing, children on swings and monkey bars in the playground, couples (and several turtles) sunbathing, nature lovers enjoying nature, ballplayers playing ball, bikers biking, joggers jogging, and folks just strolling, taking in a lovely spring day in what is still one of the most beautiful places in Chicago. All the while, salsa music blasting from a large party at the east end of the park, no doubt a preview of the massive Puerto Rican Festival to be held in a few weeks, provided the soundtrack for a magnificent urban experience.

Tanks containing chlorine and no swimming sign in front of the no-man's
land that is the site of the Humboldt Park Beach when it is not in use,
which is most of the time.
The architects of our parks knew that in order to achieve the goal of providing as many functions a park could reasonably accommodate, a careful balance had to be reached where one function flows seamlessly into another, contributing but not interfering. On top of that, the great landscape architects like the ones mentioned above, designed their parks to appear effortless and natural, as if they were not designed at all.

Unfortunately, the Humboldt Park beach disrupts Jens Jensen's thoughtful balance in every respect; it could just as well have been dropped into the park from outer space. The inland beach is a very nice perk for the people in the neighborhood who take advantage of it. But given the fact that the beach serves only a handful of people for a brief part of the year at a great cost, in terms of the environment, aesthetics, economics, and space, I believe that its ultimate fate needs to be seriously questioned. At the risk of sounding like my mother, perhaps the thing should never have been built in the first place.

I have no doubt the Humboldt Park community who struggled to get the beach built in the seventies, will not let it go without a fight, which of course is their right. As I said, it's a very difficult proposition to take something away from a community, especially a lovely amenity like a neighborhood beach. Humboldt Park today may not be exactly what it was during my mother's childhood, but what is indisputable, is that today it is light years ahead of where it was forty years ago when the beach was built. Inside the park's boundaries are limitless year round opportunities for visitors to take advantage of, just as Jens Jensen intended. Much has been lost in the nearly one hundred fifty years of the park's existence, such as boats upon the lagoon, camping out under the stars, and Kościuszko. But other great things have come along to replace what has been lost, and I dare say that Humboldt Park today is as vital and vibrant as ever.

Sad as the possible loss of the neighborhood beach may be, reclaiming the enormous amount of space it takes up has the potential of making Humboldt Park all the better. Painful as it might be, in the end I believe rethinking the beach is the right choice for the park and vast majority of people who use it.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Sign of the times...

As I walked past a local public school on the way to work this morning, a little girl about eight years old was taunting some friends with a variation of the classic playground song:

Betty and Michael sitting in a tree,
first comes love,
then comes marriage,
then comes baby in a baby carriage.

Except in this girl's version, she cut right to the chase:

Betty and Michael sitting in a tree,
first comes love,
then comes baby.

That's kids today for you,
no sense of verse.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Race Bating

Commenting this week on the scandal du jour known as "Deflategate", Father Michael Phleger posted the following on his Facebook page:
Today ESPN reported that New England Patriots most probably deliberately DEFLATED the balls in the AFC Championship Game......If this is true then shouldn't the New England Patriots lose their title as was done to the Jackie Robinson West Team???? but, oh that's right the JRW team was all Black....silly me!!!!!!!! 
He was referring to investigations that have concluded that the National Football League champion New England Patriots tampered with balls used in the game leading up to the Super Bowl. At this writing, the NFL is contemplating punishments to both the team, and their quarterback Tom Brady, the alleged instigator of the transgression. Suspensions and fines most likely will be the result, not the stripping of their championship title, as was done to the Jackie Robinson West Little League team on account of rules violations.

I admire Father Pfleger, his ministry and his commitment to the predominantly African American community in which his parish, St. Sabina resides. I agree that the punishment to the JRW team was unnecessarily severe and bemoan the likelihood that the punishment to the Brady Bunch will probably be little more than a slap on the wrist. But I strongly object to Father Pfleger's defining the comparison of the two teams and their punishments around the issue of race.

First and foremost, the NFL and Little League Baseball are two unrelated governing bodies, the rulings of one have absolutely no relevance with the rulings of the other. Had LLB a history of letting off white teams for comparable rule violations, then Pfleger would have a point. However LLB already has a precedent of revoking the championships of teams who broke their rules. Had they given a lighter penalty to JRW, they most certainly would have been accused of favoritism toward an all black team.

Likewise, had a black quarterback, say Seattle's Russell Wilson, been accused of a similar offense as Brady's, and his team's Super Bowl championship from last year been revoked, the good Father would have been spot on. But neither the NFL, nor any other major American professional sports league to the best of my knowledge, has a precedent of revoking a championship for any reason.

If you look at the details of each case separately, I think it's clear that Father Pfleger's implication that race played into either decision is absurd. Last summer, the entire nation tuned in as two little league teams captured the public's imagination. The Taney Dragons of Philadelphia, featured Mo'ne Davis, a 5'4" girl with a 70 mph fastball. The other team was Jackie Robinson West, from the south side of Chicago. What was unusual about both teams as far as the Little League tournament was concerned, was that both came from big cities and were made up predominantly of African American players. The last part is particularly significant as organized baseball has witnessed a steady decline in the numbers of black players in its ranks for the past few decades. Nobody knows the exact reason for this but the attention paid to the two little league teams from Philadelphia and Chicago was seen as a shot in the arm for baseball in the African American community.

I don't have the numbers but I can't ever remember as much attention paid to the annual Little League Tournament held in Willimasport, PA. When the JRW team returned home to Chicago after capturing the American championship, they were hailed as conquering heroes, the celebration for them downtown was not unlike celebrations of Chicago's championship professional teams. Their championship was seen as a happy story which contrasted sharply with tales of violence and misery in much of Chicago's African American community.

With all the attention to youth baseball, all the good will generated, not to mention all the revenue gained from advertising and contributions brought through the efforts of the Jackie Robinson West team to the game, it's inconceivable to me that Little League Baseball would single out JRW for punishment because of their race. In fact, I'm not entirely convinced that the opposite was not true, that JRW may have been given special treatment by receiving every benefit of the doubt, as the allegations of the team's fielding players from outside their district had been well known for a long time. It turned out that during the tournament, LLB simply chose to look the other way. It was not until long after the championship was awarded, when irrefutable evidence surfaced that the allegations of rules violations were true, that LLB was forced to act. Although I strongly disagree with the revoking of JRW's championship, LLB's decision was entirely consistent with their actions of the past.

There have been a number of instances where national championships have been revoked for rules violations in amateur sports organizations such as the NCAA. As a professional league, the National Football League has different commitments than amateur leagues, namely contracts, stock holders, team owners, and the most important source of revenue, the fans who pay for it all. A disqualification of a team's championship would go a long way to disrupt the ungodly revenue stream that comes into the NFL and other professional sports leagues. No one in the industry wants that. Unlike Major League Baseball, the majority of NFL players are black. A very large number of its fans are black. A different set of standards for blacks and whites would definitely not be in the best interest of an industry for whom the only color that matters, is green.

Father Pfleger does have one point. I said I do not believe that the ultimate decisions of the NFL and LLB were racially motivated, but the public's opinion, at least judging by the comments to Pfleger's post, is certainly racially charged. Unfortunately, most of the hundreds of comments the post received, seem to follow along racial lines; most of the black commenters supported Father Pfleger's implications, while most of the whites attacked him, sometimes in the most vulgar of terms. It must be pointed out that Father Pfleger himself is white.

Again, I applaud much of the work Father Pfleger has done at St. Sabinas, but I strongly urge him to tone the race bating down. There are plenty of instances of bigotry and racism in our society that deserve to be attacked. Finding racism in places where it does not exist, and further dividing us along the color line, is in no one's best interest, except sad to say, Father Pfleger's and others who seem to thrive on the attention it generates.