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Week in Review

By Chris Helsel

Chicago's Little League National Champions Stripped of Title

Chicago's Jackie Robinson West Little League Baseball team, which last year became the first all-African American team to win the United States national championship, has been stripped of its title following an investigation revealed that it had fielded ineligible players from outside its district.

The team, which lost to a South Korean squad by a score of 8-4 in the international championship game, had galvanized urban Chicago during its tournament run and is credited with inspiring renewed interest in the sport among African-Americans. Jackie Robinson West is a product of Little League's Urban Initiative program, which along with Major League Baseball's Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities aims to promote the sport in inner-city areas by providing resources and training coaches.

During the tournament, the team was praised for its exciting brand of play and exemplary sportsmanship. Specifically, one player personally apologized to the coach of a team from Rhode Island following an excessive home run celebration, and another gave an elaborate handshake and hug to a South Korean player following the international championship game.

However, a month after the tournament concluded, an official from a neighboring suburban Little League district contacted officials with concerns that Jackie Robinson West had fielded players from outside its prescribed regional boundaries. In January, Little League International launched an investigation, which revealed that team officials had knowingly fielded players from outside Jackie Robinson West's district. It found that the officials illicitly expanded the district's boundaries to include territories belonging to other districts and improperly altered the boundary map. The suburban whistleblower claims that he has received death threats.

Going forward, Jackie Robinson West will remain ineligible to compete until its president and league treasurer, Anne Haley and her son William, respectively, are replaced. Mr. Haley, whose father, Joseph, founded the league in 1971, was named Little League's Urban Initiative volunteer of the year in 2010.

Perhaps the most tragic aspect of this sad story is that the players themselves were apparently completely unaware that they were doing anything wrong. Stephen D. Keener, president of Little League International, said in a statement, "This is a heartbreaking decision. What these players accomplished on the field and the memories and lessons they have learned during the Little League World Series tournament is something the kids can be proud of, but it is unfortunate that the actions of adults have led to this outcome." In an interview with ESPN, he described the players as victims. "No one should cast any blame, any aspersions, on the children who participated on this team," he said.

Following its run to the national championship, the team was honored with a parade in Chicago and visited the White House. Upon learning that Little League International had stripped Jackie Robinson West of its title, a White House spokesman stressed that the president was proud of how the players had represented Chicago and the United States. "The fact is, some dirty dealing by some adults doesn't take anything away from the accomplishments of those young men," said the spokesman.

Little League International also announced that the United States championship would be awarded to Mountain Ridge Little League, a team from Las Vegas that lost to Jackie Robinson West in the national title game. Prior to that decision, Mountain Ridge's coach, Ashton Cave, suggested that Little League should send a more powerful message by leaving the title vacant.

This is not the first time a Little League team has had its tournament victories vacated for fielding ineligible players. In 1992, Little League International stripped a team from the Philippines of its championship after learning that some players had not met age or residency requirements. Additionally, a New York team, the Rolando Paulino Little League, was famously stripped of its third-place finish in 2001 after star pitcher Danny Almonte turned out to be two years older than permitted under Little League rules.

Following the announcement that Jackie Robinson West's tournament exploits would be vacated, district officials retained an attorney and pledged to review the fairness of the investigation. Specifically, they intend to investigate whether the rules were applied equally to every other team in the 2014 tournament, and confirm that Jackie Robinson West had not been unfairly singled out. At a news conference, the attorney indicated that the league is not - for now, at least - contemplating filing a lawsuit.

As for the players themselves, they believe that nothing can take away what they accomplished on the field. Speaking at a news conference, pitcher Brandon Green said that the players were not involved "in anything that could have caused us to be stripped of our championship." He added, "We do know that we're champions."


Pandora/BMI Trial Begins This Week in Manhattan Federal Court

This week, Internet streaming music service Pandora and licensing agency BMI square off in federal court over music royalties.

Currently, Pandora pays BMI, which handles the songwriting and publishing rights of artists, 1.75% of its revenue. Pandora seeks to reduce that fee to 1.70% to match the rate paid by most traditional radio broadcasters. The company contends that its online streaming service is essentially just an alternate form of radio.

BMI, on the other hand, contends that Pandora's rate should raise to 2.5%. It believes that because Pandora listeners have more control over the songs they hear, and lacks non-music programming such as news and talk, the service extends beyond a traditional radio station by making more extensive use of music.

This case mirrors a similar case between Pandora and BMI's biggest rival, ASCAP, last year. In the ASCAP case, the judge declined to alter Pandora's royalty rate, but expressed concern that ASCAP and two prominent music publishers, Sony/ATV and Universal, demonstrated "troubling coordination" in their negotiations with Pandora. Following the judge's ruling, the Justice Department issued inquiries to ASCAP, Sony/ATV and Universal.

ASCAP and the publishers appealed the decision, and appellate oral arguments are set to begin in March.

In addition to its legal battles with the agencies regarding songwriting and publishing rights, Pandora is embroiled in another legal dispute with the music industry over the price of recording rights. The cost of these rights are set by a panel of federal judges in Washington.

While the difference in the royalty rates proposed by Pandora and BMI seems slight, music industry insiders note that given the increasing shift in music consumption away from albums and radio and toward online platforms, each percentage point is crucial to the economic interests of artists. Expect this fight to drag on for months, if not years, as the percentage of music consumed online continues to grow exponentially.


Millennial News Site News Director Fired For Plagarism

The news website Mic, which caters to the millennial generation, has fired its news director after finding that he committed plagiarism. On Wednesday, the news and gossip website Gawker published a story accusing the news director, Jared Keller, of copying or liberally borrowing passages from other news outlets in at least 20 of his pieces. The following day, after an internal investigation, Mic announced that Mr. Keller had been fired.

Mr. Keller, who previously worked at Bloomberg, Al Jazeera America and The Atlantic, copied passages verbatim or with minor changes from numerous outlets, including Vox, Reuters and The Atlantic, without giving his sources proper credit. He issued an apology on Twitter on Thursday afternoon and declined to comment further.


New Jersey Approves Gambling Based on "Physical Skills"

For the first time, an American casino will offer a competition based purely on gamblers' physical dexterity.

Atlantic City casinos, which have faced enormous financial difficulties in recent years following the opening of casinos in Philadelphia and New York, now have the ability to offer something their competitors cannot - yet. Executives at The Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa, an Atlantic City staple, announced yesterday that they have received permission from New Jersey gambling regulators to host a basketball-shooting contest next month. The contest, which will cost $20 to enter, gives entrants 90 seconds to make as many free throws as possible. The top 16 performers will enter a tournament, with the top four finishers splitting $10,000, $5,000 of which goes to the winner.

The program, which according to the American Gaming Association is the first of its kind offered by a licensed U.S. casino, was approved by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement under its "New Jersey First" initiative. The initiative seeks to adopt and enact unprecedented gambling products before other states do.

The program is expected to be followed by many similar programs in the coming months. According to Borgata senior vice president Joe Lupo, "This is a first step, something we've never been able to do until now. A year from now, you'll probably see a lot more of these skill-based tournaments or even games on the casino floor."

Other Atlantic City casinos are free to propose similar games, but each must be specifically evaluated and approved by the state prior to enactment.

The casino stressed that the contests are open to any and all persons age 21 and above - including professional athletes.

The approval of this new mode of gambling comes on the heels of the state's failed attempts to legalize sports betting, as covered in previous editions of "Week in Review."


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