An Oak Lawn youth baseball league board suspended its president during a special meeting on Monday for a racist comment he posted on his personal Facebook page about the late singer Whitney Houston.
John Kelly, president of Westside Baseball—a youth league that offers baseball and softball programs for boys and girls—posted the comment early last week after the singer was found dead in the bathtub in her hotel room on February 11. Authorities have not yet announced the cause of Houston’s death, but speculation is that a combination of drugs and alcohol may be involved.
Kelly told Patch that he made the comment out of frustration that Houston, who publicly battled drug addiction throughout her singing career, was being elevated as children’s role model by the news media.
“I'm so sick if reading about this dumb stupid N----- Whitney Houston..she's the dumb ass that decided to do drugs n kill herself stay with that woman beater ... she blew more $$ up her nose than most of ye will make in yer lifetime ... there are kids dying real fathers n mothers fighting for their lives...grow up ye dumb assess...think she'd give a flying f--- about u???? Just saying.”
The mother of a former league player—who is black—copied the comment on to her own Facebook page as well as the Westside league's, announcing that the original post was made on by the league’s president. She quickly removed it from the Westside Facebook page, but not before an email went out to other parents and children notifying them a new comment had been posted.
Special Board Meeting Called
Jim Hebel, who was appointed acting president of the board, said that Kelly had apologized to the mother. He also added that the comment was posted to Kelly’s personal Facebook page and that young children did not have access to it.
“We want to do the right thing and move our organization forward by calling this meeting as quickly as we did to get it out in the open,” Hebel said. “John deeply regrets making the comment.”
The mother did not attend at Monday’s board meeting, at which 20 board members met in closed session. Hebel said that sanctions were imposed against Kelly, including him stepping down from the board presidency until he has completed a sensitivity training course, which Kelly has agreed to pay for out of his own pocket. Kelly has also been banned from coaching a league team for one year.
“He will still be active on the board but he’s not president as of right now,” Hebel said. “Until he completes that course and brings in a certificate, only then will we revisit him becoming part of the executive board again.”
Hebel added that even upon completion of sensitivity training, there were no guarantees that Kelly would be reinstated as league president.
“We don’t condone his comment,” Hebel said.
Neither Hebel nor the other board members understand the mother’s intentions, which he called a “personal issue” between Kelly and the mother.
'I'm punishing myself'
Kelly, who ran unsuccessfully in the 2008 Democratic primary for Cook County Recorder of Deeds, admits to posting the comment on his Facebook page.
“I made the comment,” he said. “I had a bunch of friends and cousins making comments about Whitney Houston. I’m sorry I did it. I deleted the post and then I went and apologized to [the mother] on Saturday. I apologized 100 times over. This lady is making a personal vendetta against me.”
Kelly said he has helped the mother, a single parent, by paying her son’s way in the Westside league and on a traveling baseball team. The boy and his own son are friends and frequently sleep over at each other’s homes.
Kelly claimed that he was the one who called the meeting “basically to punish myself.”
It was also his idea to complete and pay for a sensitivity course.
“I imposed a bunch of sanctions on myself,” Kelly said. “Originally I wanted to do a two-week suspension [as league president]. All I ever wanted to do was manage my son’s team and I suspended myself where I would not manage a team this year.”
In addition to stepping down as league president—which Kelly called temporary—he put himself on probation for a year, where if violated any more league rules, he would resign permanently, no questions asked.
“No one has ever seen the president of this league do what I did tonight. That’s leadership,” Kelly said. “I could have gone up there and said, ‘kiss my ass,’ and then walk away ashamed.
“We’ve fought wars for the right of freedom of speech,” he continued. “It’s my personal Facebook page. I put stupid stuff on there.”
While admitting that he never should have used the racial slur, he stands behind the gist of his message: that the late singer was a drug addict who may have drowned in the bathtub while under the influence of drugs, and whose own daughter is reportedly a drug addict.
“I know what I did was 100 percent wrong and I never should have used the word,” he said. “I’m not racist.”
Fellow board member Mike Bronzell said he thought Kelly should have resigned outright.
“He’s president of a children’s sports league and should be held to a higher standard,” Bronzell said. “To have a president talking like that in public, it’s indefensible. He has no character.”
Meanwhile, Hebel said the board is using “social media guidelines” based on news media reports of similar incidents.
“Social media is in its infancy and we’re learning from it,” Hebel said. “We’re not trying to make this go away, we’re trying to make it right.”