The unfurling of a banner that read, “Racism is as American as Fenway Park” was another chapter in an ongoing Red Sox subplot in 2017. More than 58 years after the team became the last in Major League Baseball to integrate, the issue of racism has come back to the forefront this season in several high-profile stories.
May 1: Orioles outfielder Adam Jones was the target of racial abuse
While standing in center field at Fenway during a Monday night game in May, Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles was the victim of racist taunts.
“A disrespectful fan threw a bag of peanuts at me,’’ Jones told Bob Nightengale of USA Today. “I was called the N-word a handful of times tonight. Thanks. Pretty awesome.’’
Jones gave a longer account of the incident (and the context around it) in a video for the Players’ Tribune:
The Red Sox responded with a public apology to Jones for what he endured, stating that, “The Red Sox have zero tolerance for such inexcusable behavior, and our entire organization and our fans are sickened by the conduct of an ignorant few.”
May 3: Fan ejected for racist taunts, banned from Fenway for life
One night after Jones received his standing ovation, another incident occurred that resulted in a fan receiving a permanent ban from Fenway Park. After a Kenyan woman sang the national anthem, a “middle-aged white man, wearing a Red Sox hat and T-shirt” used a racial slur in describing her rendition to Calvin Hennick, who was seated near him in the Fenway outfield.
Hennick described his initial reaction to The Boston Globe as “aghast. But I wanted to be 100 percent sure I heard him right.” Upon asking the fan if he had said a racial slur, the fan answered that he had, adding “and I stand by it.”
Security was called and the fan was ejected. Additionally, he was given a lifetime ban.
“I’m here to send a message, loud and clear, that the behavior, the language, the treatment of others that you’ve heard about and read about is not acceptable,” Red Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy told the media in the press box during the game.
August 17: John Henry pushes for renaming of Yawkey Way
In the wake of a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month, Red Sox owner John Henry went public with his desire to have Yawkey Way renamed.
“I discussed this a number of times with the previous mayoral administration and they did not want to open what they saw as a can of worms,” Henry told the Boston Herald.
The Fenway Park-adjacent street is named after Tom Yawkey, who owned the Red Sox from 1933 to 1976. Under his ownership, the Red Sox were the last team in the MLB to integrate and infamously passed on signing black players, including future Hall of Famers such as Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays.
“We could have had Mays in center and [Ted] Williams in left,” former Red Sox scout George Digby, who says he arranged to have the team sign Mays in 1949, told The Boston Globe in 2005.
“[General manager Joe] Cronin sent another scout down to look at him, but Yawkey and Cronin already had made up their minds they weren’t going to take any black players,” Digby said.
As Charlie Pierce recounted in a Sports Illustrated piece last month, Yawkey also repeatedly hired manager Mike “Pinky” Higgins, who explicitly pledged not to sign any black players. During a 1945 tryout for Robinson and two Negro League stars at Fenway Park, someone from the direction of the team offices reportedly shouted, “Get those n—— off the field!” Clif Keane, a sportswriter for the Globe at the time, reportedly suspected it was Yawkey, though it has never been confirmed who actually shouted the slur.
Yawkey’s personal biographer says he never found any evidence that the former owner was “personally racist,” and the Yawkey Foundation says that the charity’s philanthropic efforts have always been “color blind.”
Nevertheless, Henry told the Herald he is “still haunted by what went on here a long time before we arrived.”
“For me, personally, the street name has always been a consistent reminder that it is our job to ensure the Red Sox are not just multi-cultural, but stand for as many of the right things in our community as we can – particularly in our African-American community and in the Dominican community that has embraced us so fully,” he said.
The Red Sox have no control over the naming of streets in Boston; however, Henry says he would like the team to “lead the effort” if the community favors renaming Yawkey Way.
“Particularly in light of the country’s current leadership stance with regard to intolerance,” Henry said, apparently alluding to President Donald Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville.
Henry said he would support renaming the street after David Ortiz. Just last season, local officials renamed a recently built extension of Yawkey Way (as well as a nearby bridge) after Ortiz in honor of the slugger’s retirement.
September 13: Fans drape anti-racism banner over Green Monster
During Wednesday’s game against the Oakland Athletics, four fans were removed from Fenway Park by security after they unfurled a giant banner from atop the Green Monster stating, “Racism Is As American As Baseball.”
According to the Globe, the banner was visible for roughly two minutes before the group — two men and two women, between the ages of 25 to 30 — were ejected from the park. No arrests were made.
Kennedy told the Globe that the group told Fenway security guards they “felt connected to the Black Lives Matter movement.”
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, one of the demonstrators told Comcast SportsNet New England that the group’s members came from “various organizing groups in the Boston area” affiliated with racial justice causes.
The individual said they hoped their actions would push a discussion around Boston’s complicated history with race:
“The banner came in response to the racist comments at the beginning of the season at Fenway [that Adam Jones spoke of].
“But overall, we saw, we see Boston continually priding itself as a kind of liberal, not racist city, and are reminded also constantly that it’s actually an extremely segregated city. It has been for a long time, and that no white people can avoid the history of racism, essentially. So we did this banner as a gesture towards that, to have a conversation about that.”
Amid some initial ambiguity over the banner’s intended message, the group sent CSNNE an email stating that they wanted white people to reckon with the systemic racism “fundamental to American culture.”
“We want to remind everyone that just as baseball is fundamental to American culture and history, so too is racism,” the group said in a written statement. “White people need to wake up to this reality before white supremacy can truly be dismantled. We urge anyone who is interested in learning more or taking action to contact their local racial justice organization.”
In an interview Thursday with the Globe, one of a group’s member said it is a “false and damaging narrative” that some perceive the Northeast to be progressive and less racist than the rest of the country.
“Just because we’re more quiet [about racism] doesn’t mean that it’s less pervasive,” said the woman, a Greater Boston resident in her 20s, who spread the banner across the floor in her apartment to prove to the Globe she had participated.
The group says they’re remaining anonymous so that their personal biographies do not distract from their message.