If the past few weeks — actually, the past few centuries worth of history — has taught us anything, it’s that there are racists everywhere. It’s not just a southern thing or a rural thing and it’s not just limited to certain professions, demographics, or generations.
That includes ballparks. All ballparks. Indeed, I would reckon that at one point or another, black, Latino, and Asian players have heard racist taunts from fans in all 30 big league stadiums.
We have, however, had some high-profile incidents of racist taunting in Fenway Park in Boston. You may recall that in 2017 Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones was berated by racist taunts. Jones said at the time that, in the past, he had been subjected to racist heckling at Fenway Park but said that the May 2017 incident was the worst he had ever experienced.
Predictably, people who weren’t even there cast doubt on Jones’ account. Curt Schilling called Jones’ account into question, Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated’s MMQB demanded “proof” from Jones that the racial slurs were, in fact, hurled. These loud voices likewise ignored several other players, including Red Sox players such as David Price and Jackie Bradley Jr., who confirmed that, yes, racial taunts from fans in Fenway Park were not uncommon.
It was the classic defensive and denial-fueled gambit of rushing right past the account of a victim in order to proclaim that “not ALL [city/team] fans are like that” and to defensively decry anyone who would say they are, as if that’s the most important matter in all of it. A certain “we are not like that” response almost always happens when racism is called out among a distinct group of people, and the tribalism inherent in sports fandom makes that impulse even stronger.
Last week a retired player, Torii Hunter, told ESPN’s Mike Golic and Trey Wingo that racial abuse he received from fans at Fenway Park led him to put the Red Sox in the no-trade clauses in his contracts. Hunter said “I’ve been called the N-word in Boston 100 times . . . little kids, with their parents right next to them . . . that’s why I had a no-trade clause to Boston in every contract I had.”
While one might expect that, once again, people would come out of the woodwork to discount a black man’s own experiences of racism, this time an authoritative voice came out to corroborate what Hunter said: The Boston Red Sox themselves.
The Sox, in a statement, said:
Torii Hunter’s experience is real. If you doubt him because you’ve never heard it yourself, take it from us, it happens. Last year, there were 7 reported incidents at Fenway Park where fans used racial slurs. Those are just the ones we know about.
And it’s not only players. It happens to the dedicated Black employees who work for us on game days. Their uniforms may be different, but their voices and experiences are just as important.
We are grateful to everyone who has spoken up and we remain committed to using our platform to amplify the many voices who are calling out injustice.
There are well-established consequences for fans who use racial slurs and hate speech in our venue, and we know we have more work to do. This small group of fans does not represent who we are, but are rather a reflection of larger systemic issues that as an organization we need to address.
True change starts from within, and as we identify how we can do better, please know we are listening. We hear you, and we believe you.
At the time of the Jones incident, the Sox backed Jones up and owner John Henry talked openly about the racist history of the club’s long-time owner, Tom Yawkey. The incident also prompted numerous teams around the league to run anti-racism PSAs on the scoreboard before games.
This statement, however, is next-level. It’s welcome. And hopefully it shuts the people who would reflexively deny the accounts of people like Jones and Hunter right the hell up.