Michael Wilbon on racism in Boston: ‘This conversation has been going on forever’

Wilbon called the Red Sox's statement "a huge step" in the fight for racial equality.

Michael Wilbon.

ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said Thursday that Boston needs to acknowledge the racism that takes place in the city — and applauded the Red Sox for doing so in a statement the team issued Wednesday.

“I don’t know which one shocked me more: NASCAR saying we’re getting rid of the Confederate flag or an admission in Boston,” Wilbon said on “Pardon the Interruption,” a program he co-hosts with Tony Kornheiser.

Though he was surprised by the team’s statement, Wilbon was pleased to see the Red Sox “own” the racist incidents that have occurred at Fenway Park. He hopes that the rest of the city follows suit.


“I grew up in the most segregated city in America — at the time — Chicago, Illinois,” Wilbon said. “We know what it is and we know what it isn’t, and we had to own it. Too often in Boston, no one owned it. That’s what the Red Sox did. That’s a first, or almost a first, in terms of systematic ownership.”

The Red Sox released a statement via social media Wednesday evening, after retired outfielder Torii Hunter spoke up about the treatment he received as a visiting player in Boston. Hunter, whose MLB career lasted nearly two decades, said he’s been called the N-word “100 times” in Boston, so he included in a no-trade clause to the Red Sox in every MLB contract he signed.

Former Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones also spoke up in May 2017, when he said he was called the N-word and had peanuts thrown at him during a game at Fenway Park. Jones said the incident was not a first for him in Boston.

The Red Sox said there were seven reported incidents involving racial slurs at Fenway Park last year. The first sentence of the statement read, “This is real.”

Wilbon agreed with Hunter that the problem doesn’t have to do with the Red Sox organization, but rather the city as a whole. He recalled a moment when he “feared for his life” while walking through South Boston with fellow sportswriter David DuPree.


“This has to do with Boston,” Wilbon said. “The only times I’ve been called the N-word to my face in public have been in Boston Garden.”

He also explained why he no longer appears on local radio station WEEI.

“There’s too many times where I’m baited into something, and I wind up screaming at the hosts, and they don’t own it,” Wilbon said. “They — the fans, the residents, New England — they don’t own it.”

Athletes and sports personalities are not the only ones to speak out about the racism they’ve encountered in Boston. In March 2017, “Saturday Night Live” Weekend Update co-anchor Michael Che stood by his comment that Boston is “the most racist city” he’s visited.

“Black people, all of us, or close enough to all of us, have had the conversation about Boston forever,” said Wilbon. “One side of the street sees it one way, and the other side sees it another. Until there’s some sort of meeting, Tony, this was going to continue about Black folks and how we — we — feel about Boston and the way we were treated in Boston.”

Wilbon called the Red Sox’s statement “a huge step” in the fight for racial equality.

“You can’t start a revolution if you don’t own what you do,” he said.



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