Little League World Series officials have said there was no "ill-intent" after a video of players sticking a cottonlike material on a Black teammate's head drew backlash online.
In the video, the player, who wears a Midwest Region uniform, is sitting in a chair as teammates pull the stuffing out of toys and stick it on the youth's head.
The team, from Davenport, Iowa, appeared to be watching Sunday's Little League Classic game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Boston Red Sox when the incident, which aired on ESPN, unfolded.
"That's just Little Leaguers being Little Leaguers right there," a commentator says as the camera homes in on the scene.
A spokesperson for the Little League World Series said in a statement that while officials understood how the incident "could be perceived as racially insensitive," the organization was assured after having spoken with the child's mother and coaches that "there was no ill-intent behind the action shown during the broadcast."
The Davenport Southeast Little League later offered further details. The Iowa group said its players were given a stuffed animal and were pulling the stuffing out "in an attempt to emulate the white mohawk of the Hawaii team’s star player, who they think is a great baseball player with a very cool hairstyle."
"Unfortunately, the cameras did not show the boys putting stuffing on the heads of multiple players" or of the Black player laughing and loving his new “look," the Davenport group said in a statement it posted online, along with video of the player.
The team had "absolutely no ill-intent or racial motivations," and the kids were trying to emulate a player they admire, the Iowa group said.
"We are in no way trying to minimize the racial insensitivity of the boys’ actions and apologize for any harm this video has caused. We have spoken to the boys to help educate them on why it was inappropriate — which none of them had realized or understood at the time. They understand it now, providing them a life lesson they will carry forward."
The video drew fierce criticism online, with many branding it as racist, while some warned that it could discourage Black children from wanting to pursue sports.
"That is traumatizing, and the young man looks humiliated," one social media user wrote. "The @ESPN announcer had the audacity to say, 'Kids will be kids.' Shameful," the user wrote, tagging the broadcaster. In a statement, a spokesperson for ESPN said: “We understand the sensitivities and are in touch with Little League organizers about the situation.”
"Hey @MLB - you want more Black kids in the game, but this is what happens when they play America's Pastime," another social media user said.
The incident comes days after a Black mother sued the Los Angeles Unified School District in state court over a past elementary school project that she said involved students’ picking cotton to learn about slavery.
In the lawsuit, Rashunda Pitts branded the project, which took place in 2017, as "culturally insensitive" and said her daughter had suffered extreme emotional distress as a result.
A spokesperson for the school district told NBC Los Angeles in October 2017 that school administrators immediately removed the cotton plant after they became aware of Pitts' concerns. A spokesperson for the district said in an email to NBC News this month that the district does not typically comment on pending or ongoing litigation.