Cheating has been part of sports as long as there have been sports. From the ancient Olympics right up to modern times, some athletes and organizers break rules in the pursuit of victory. Each time the integrity of sports takes a hit and we become a little more jaded.
But seldom has cheating been as dispiriting as in the case of the youth baseball team from Chicago now stripped of the U.S. title it won at last summer's Little League World Series.
Jackie Robinson West was one of the year's feel-good stories -- the first all-black team to win the title at a time when baseball is having trouble attracting black players. The kids from the South Side of Chicago captured the collective heart of their city and went to the White House to meet President Barack Obama.
Except, as it turns out, they were not all from the South Side. Team officials fudged their boundary map, improperly recruited kids from outside their turf, and persuaded officials from surrounding leagues to go along with the scheme. Now all the team's wins have been forfeited, its manager is suspended and an administrator has been removed.
Sports builds character. But sports has a knack for revealing character, too. The view can be ugly. We're almost inured to cheating on the pro level. But cheating in youth leagues is more distressing. Because it's kids. Because their games are supposed to be more innocent. Because invariably it's adults who hurt the children they profess to love. And because it's kids who bear the brunt of a painful lesson.
The penalties meted out here, alas, are fair. We'd like to think they'll deter future cheaters. But even if they are successful in doing that, it will be little comfort to a group of kids who thought they had made history and the city that cheered them on.