9/1/2014 5:34 P.M. ET
Williams conveys important message to Little Leaguers
White Sox executive VP preaches education, end of gun violence to JRW U.S. champs
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- They became four words put forth by Ken Williams that resonated across the 10,000 people in attendance at Chicago's Millennium Park -- not to mention the countless others watching on television -- during the celebration rally for the Jackie Robinson West All-Stars U.S. Little League World Series title last Wednesday afternoon.
"Put down the guns," the White Sox executive vice president said as part of his short but meaningful speech during the ceremony following a morning parade.
In reality, Williams' powerful words went away from the original script that he had planned. That slightly tamer message described by Williams, focusing on the gift these kids truly deserve, still ran through his mind days after the event.
"I'm a baseball executive, and I don't know whether that's appropriate to do in a situation where I'm not asked," said Williams, referring to the stronger sentiment expressed. "It was simply a situation where I went completely off script from what I intended to say.
"As I was sitting there, I'm thinking to myself: All of this adulation is great, and these kids are being given so much, but some of the simple things -- such as the right to go to the park and play when the sun goes down or sit on the porch, or in the case of the little girl getting shot playing inside her living room. "I wanted to articulate in a much better way than I did that these kids that we are celebrating deserve the right to life and not worry about the things they have to worry about on a day-to-day basis just with regards to their safety -- much less than competing in school and sports and all the other things in life.
"I wish that was the one gift we could give them over all the nice things the people have done," Williams said. "I didn't say it as I had intended to say it, because I think the emotion overtook me."
JRW players have been feted across the Chicagoland area since their LLWS run captivated the entire city. Wrigley Field stood as their Labor Day stop, following a tribute paid by the White Sox Saturday night, including everything from a chance to run the bases at U.S. Cellular Field to mingling with White Sox and Tigers players and coaches to a $20,000 donation made by the White Sox to JRW Little League.
One fan at a recent LLWS watch party outside the Chicago Theater described the run by these 11- and 12-year-olds from the Washington Heights neighborhood as something the city needed. He also referred to these young men as role models, a sentiment Williams expressed to the players in a private meeting before the on-field festivities Saturday.
A trip to Disney World comes this weekend for the players, but a return to school Tuesday falls next on the agenda. And education for these kids means more in Williams' mind than any clutch late-inning home run or double plays turned.
That sentiment has been eloquently espoused by Williams over the years during moments such as Jackie Robinson Day programs hosted by the White Sox, or when he was one of the proud front-office members in attendance during the college signing day ceremony for kids from the highly successful White Sox Amateur City Elite program.
Six ACE players were part of the JRW squad. Two took part in the 2014 College World Series. Fourteen ACE players have been drafted by professional teams. But last and most importantly, 85 ACE participants received athletic aid to play collegiate baseball.
"There are only so many ways to lift yourself or your family out of an oppressed situation, right? If you don't get your education, you are in effect saying to yourself, 'I'm not going to give myself a full opportunity,'" Williams explained. "Even when I hear what the dropout rate is and some of the challenges we have in our school system, it boggles the mind.
"Many people find themselves in different situations for very different reasons, and having grown up in a place not dissimilar to the South Side of Chicago, I get that. I get it. I just don't accept it, and I don't want to hear the excuses."
Support came in to Williams for his comments, with people encouraging him to speak more on the topic. Social media briefly took off in suggesting the 50-year-old might want to consider a career in politics. He smiled at such a suggestion, quickly adding that he couldn't take the pay cut.
"With the way that people rake politicians over the coals and knowing that I live in a glass house, that's not a good fit," Williams said. "Listen, I had a job where you get scrutinized seven months a year.
"You think I want to trade that one in for one where you get scrutinized 12 months a year, every day? And I prefer to be able to answer a question how I really want to answer a question and not think about it politically."
So Williams will stay as a baseball executive, but he won't forget his connection to the community, which was on display once again recently with the JRW champions.