The abuse directed at Orioles’ Adam Jones highlights problems in US society
WHEN Red Sox fans hurled peanuts and the N-word toward Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones on Monday night, it was a reminder of Boston’s racial legacy — particularly around its sports teams.
The Cradle of Liberty’s reputation as a racist sports town developed through decades of mingled progress and retrenchment.
Jones was given an extended ovation on Tuesday night as he stepped to the plate for his first at-bat, a moment sharply different from what he described Monday night, saying he heard fans call him the N-word and had peanuts thrown in his direction in the dugout, hitting a nearby police officer.
The All-Star said he felt “it was just the right time” to speak out after experiencing previous racial heckling at Fenway over 12 seasons, though he said it was more a sign of larger racial issues than an indictment of Boston or its fans. Several black stars said on Tuesday that Jones was just describing what they regularly experience.
The Celtics and the Bruins were pioneers in professional basketball and hockey during the 1950s. But the Red Sox were the last Major League Baseball team to field a black player. Pumpsie Green debuted at Fenway in 1959 — more than a decade after Jackie Robinson played for the Dodgers and even after Willie O’Ree took to the ice for Boston in the allwhite National Hockey League.
The Celtics were the first team to draft a black player, the first to field an all-black starting five and the first to hire a black head coach.
In the 1980s, the rivalry between the white Celtics’ Larry Bird and the AfricanAmerican Lakers star Magic Johnson epitomised the NBA’s racial divide. Earlier this season, black Celtics forward Jae Crowder said he felt “disrespected” by fans openly coveting white potential free agent Gordon Hayward, rekindling the debate.
While the Sox-Orioles rivalry shouldn’t automatically result in racism, “for some white Americans, that’s often where they go if they’re angry,” said University of Hartford sociologist Woody Doane.
“Pulling a racial epithet out of our back pocket is something a lot of us still do,” said Doane, who studies sports, society and whiteness.
Boston’s racial history — including fights over segregated housing, schools and politics — has spilled into sports as some working class residents experience a “white crisis,” said University of Connecticut sociologist Matthew Hughey.
The situation is not much different for players on the field. Only 7.7 per cent of players are African-Americans, according to the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport — the lowest figure in the years since the institute has tracked the data. Black players have long commented on the atmosphere at Fenway, saying they expect racial taunts.
On Tuesday, Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia said: “You get called names, N-word, all kinds of stuff when you go to Boston.
“There’s 62 of us and we all know: When you go to Boston, expect it.”
Both the city and its sports franchises have changed in recent years. Last season, the Patriots started a black quarterback for the first time. The Red Sox have several African-American players in their starting lineup. And Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas is currently leading his team in the NBA play-offs.
Red Sox president Sam Kennedy said his ownership group made it a mission in 2002 to “acknowledge the shameful past of the Boston Red Sox” and Fenway’s reputation as an unfriendly environment.
“We’ve worked really hard to change that. We want to open up Fenway Park to everyone,” Kennedy said. “Everyone should feel comfortable at Fenway Park. No matter your race, religion, political beliefs, your sexuality — you are welcomed at Fenway.”
Boston’s neighborhoods have diversified and its racial boundaries have become less rigid. The city’s population is now a quarter black, up from roughly 16 per cent in 1970 and 3 per cent in 1940. Since 2000, at least half of Boston’s population has been made up of minorities.
But city Councillor Ayanna Pressley said that the incident “lays bare the racism that many residents of our city grapple with on a regular basis.”
It may also be a sign of the times, said Institute for Diversity director Richard Lapchick.
“This is one more alarm bell that racism is alive and well in the United States,” he said. “To think it doesn’t take place in sports, or in any other aspect of our society would be naive on the part of the public.
“But it puts it in our face more when something like that happens in a ballpark.”