As a white baseball player, Kevin Youkilis feels like his experience playing at Fenway Park was vastly different than what his Black teammates had to go through.
In an interview with Fox Sports Radio on Wednesday, the former Red Sox first and third basemen discussed the racial tension, and discrimination, he noticed firsthand coming from fans at the ballpark. Having spent much of his career playing in Boston, Youkilis said that on one occasion, he even had to intervene when a fan directed their comments at a Black baseball player.
“Boston was tough. Being a fan favorite there, being a white guy, being Jewish with Brookline right down the street – a very Jewish neighborhood, I was lucky. They loved me. But I did see some tension with even my own teammates,” he said. “There was one incident where a fan came running down and was being extra harsh towards one of our black players, and I just got fed up and I stood up and told him to ‘Shut the ‘F’ up, and if you don’t like it get out of here’.
“I will never forget that moment because I was boiling. You could see the tension, and it wasn’t the same tension that was towards a white player. For the most part, I’d like to say too, though, with Red Sox fans, it’s not the majority it’s a minority of people that act like that. But the minority is too big, and you have to eliminate that.”
Youkilis is one several former players to have spoken up about the racism they observed firsthand while playing at Fenway Park. Retired outfielder Torii Hunter told ESPN that he was called the N-word several times by fans as young as “little kids,” and he later said that he has heard more racist remarks in Boston than any other city.
“I would get it everywhere,” Hunter said on WEEI-FM’s “The Greg Hill Show” on Wednesday. “Seattle. Kansas City. Kansas City once did something to validate it. When they called me the ‘N’ word standing over our dugout. Our whole team was almost going to jump this guy, but this guy’s kid covered his mouth. The police right next to our dugout got up and took him to a back room, talked to him, interrogated him and banned him for life. That was cool. I was like, ‘Wow, Kansas City took care of that.’
“But when I went to Boston it was so consistent. After a while, I just kind of shoved it off and I went out and played. I played with aggression though. I played like I really wanted to play well in Fenway. It has nothing to do with the Red Sox. It has nothing to do with the players. It has nothing to do with the organization. It really has nothing to do with the fans. But that’s the issue when you hear that…It has something to do with society.”
Hunter said that he even felt uncomfortable with the idea of his family living in Boston if he had signed there.
“That’s why I got the no-trade clause, the list of teams, and I put Boston in there,” he added. “I love Boston. I wanted to play there. It just hit me that I can’t have my wife and my kids in this area. There is no way I can do that because I don’t ever want them to go through that and if they do I don’t know what I would do and I would be the angry black guy and that wouldn’t be good.”
In response to Hunter’s comments, the Red Sox issued an official team statement on Wednesday, calling his experience “real” and stating that there were “seven reported incidents” of fans using racial slurs at Fenway last year alone. In 2017, the Orioles’ Adam Jones said that he was called a racial slur 100 times and once had a bag of peanuts thrown at him. The incident then prompted the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team to investigate the history of racism and racial slurs directed at players of color in Boston, showing that racism is an even greater issue at large not only within sports arenas, but throughout the city as well.
In their statement, the Red Sox said they are “listening” and that “true change starts from within.” Both Jones and Hunter reacted positively to team’s statement on Twitter:
Change starts now. Much love!🙏🏾👍🏾✊🏾✊🏻✊🏽✊🏿✊🏼 https://t.co/aoUqmUX24E
— Torii Hunter (@toriihunter48) June 10, 2020