Ever since I can remember, Fenway Park has been a place where any and all of my problems can be put on the back burner for a few hours while I watch my beloved Red Sox go to battle against their opponents. Sucked in by the mesmerizing atmosphere, I always believed that “America’s most beloved ballpark” could do no wrong. However, recently Fenway’s safe and worry-free environment has been infiltrated by real-world imperfections and reminded Boston of its dark past plagued by bigotry. The shocking emergence of hate in a place that I hold so close to my heart frankly disgusts me.
For over a century, Boston sports have dominated the world of professional athletics, bringing championship after championship home to Beantown. But while Boston is widely known as one of the greatest sports towns in the country, its sports culture also has a reputation for being haunted by racism.
On Monday, May 1, Boston racism returned to Fenway Park at the expense of Baltimore Orioles’ All-Star center fielder Adam Jones. Jones reported that a bag of peanuts had been thrown his way while he was repeatedly called racial slurs. As surprising as this incident was to many respectful Fenway fans like me, other notable athletes corroborated Jones’ account of heckling at Fenway Park. Pitchers David Price and C.C. Sabathia each has his own tale to tell, both singling out Fenway Park as the worst of the worst in the realm of Major League Baseball.
Moreover, racism in Boston is not baseball-specific. The TD Garden, home of the Bruins and the Celtics, has also hosted its fair share of racist heckling. In the past half-decade, Joel Ward and P.K. Subban, players for the Washington Capitals and Montreal Canadiens, respectively, each experienced racial abuse from Boston fans. Issues with acceptance in Boston sports have deep roots. In 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the MLB color barrier, and following this, the remaining Major league teams began accepting African-American players. The Boston Red Sox, however, were the last team to integrate—almost a decade after Robinson’s breakthrough. And still, dozens of years afterward, Boston can’t quite rid itself of racial intolerance.
Nevertheless, racial tension in Boston applies to far more than just professional sports. According to the Huffington Post, Boston is the seventh most segregated city in America. Forty percent of Bostonians live in racially segregated areas, and the unemployment and poverty rates differ dramatically by race. Potentially because of this segregation, ignorant racists—although few and far between—strike from the crowd all too often here. As much as we hate to believe it, or have been fortunate enough to avoid it, for so many years, we need to acknowledge the truth; racism lingers in Boston.
We need a solution. In the eyes of Adam Jones, a hefty fine would do the trick. “What they need to do is that instead of kicking them out of the stadium, they need to fine them 10 grand, 20 grand, 30 grand,” the star outfielder said. “Something that really hurts somebody.” Red Sox executives think there’s more to it. The team’s president, Sam Kennedy, called for an urgent meeting earlier this week regarding race relations, seeking to fix the problem once and for all. Boston politicians made immediate public apologies following the incident, but these don’t solve anything.
The real problem lies not in the sports culture in Boston but in the day-to-day interactions between Bostonians. An excess of beer is not what’s creating the racially charged comments; it’s just what is enabling fans to fling comments at helpless victims. As long as Red Sox, Bruins, Celtics, and Patriots fans fail to speak up, racism and bigotry will continue. We need to change our culture so that we show more respect for each and every person and for the games we cherish so much. Sports are an extension of society, and until society moves forward, sports will be stuck in the past.