Let’s get this out of the way right now:
Boston has a racist past, and a racist present.
I won’t try to refute or deny that. I’d like to think that it has improved, but as a white woman, that’s not for me to decide. I also won’t go the ‘There’s racism all over America and the world’ route because even though that’s true, it’s also not the point of discussion.
Last week, former MLB outfielder Torii Hunter said that the Red Sox were one of the only teams to whom he had a no-trade clause in his contracts because he experienced repeated racial abuse from the fans at Fenway. And though he told WEEI’s “The Greg Hill Show” that he experienced this at many ballparks, it was the worst in Boston and “it was so consistent.”
But despite Hunter’s statements, I was still surprised to see the Red Sox issue a statement in response today, and a strong one at that. They not only addressed the issue head-on, but they confirmed it in no uncertain terms. “If you doubt him because you’ve never heard it yourself, take it from us, it happens.”
It hurt to hear Torii say it, and it hurt to hear the Red Sox confirm it, because the truth hurts. It’s uncomfortable, shameful, frustrating, and painful to know that human beings endure these things.
The Red Sox admitting that racism exists in Boston is kind of like me saying that often times, our beautiful blue sky has clouds in it. Duh? But it’s still important that they said it, especially since they’ve spent much of the last few months of baseball’s impasse posting old videos and acting as if all is well in the world. They often want to focus on the positive and keep it light, which, while understandable, comes off as tone-deaf. This was a pleasant shock to the system, and an important one. After all, acknowledging you have a problem is the first step to solving it.
I admit that I have felt shame in being a Red Sox fan, writer, and podcaster. Often, when someone doesn’t like me or something I’ve said, but they can’t come up with an intelligent or creative response, they go with the classic, “At least I’m not a racist Boston fan!” I’ve received rape threats, antisemitic tweets, run-of-the-mill sexism, you name it. But the assumption that I must be racist because I’m a Bostonian is one of the worst things I have ever had said to me, because I know that regardless of the intelligence of the troll saying it, it’s an accusation based in the fact that I live in a place where racism is still quite prevalent. Being lumped in with people who spew such hateful rhetoric is a disgusting feeling, because they say things I would never say.
That Boston fans are extremely “passionate” is often an excuse that people make to explain away raucous and unacceptable behavior. It’s how we explain away running players and managers out of town when they don’t live up to our sky-high standards. It’s why the MIT dome was painted like a baseball, the old Reverse the Curse graffitied sign on Storrow Drive was allowed to stay that way, and why you’ll see 9 out of 10 old men on the beaches of Cape Cod with some form of faded Red Sox tattoo; Red Sox Nation is diehard. But passion is no excuse for inexcusable behavior. It’s certainly no excuse for racism and bigotry.
Plenty of people replied to the Red Sox’ statement on Twitter saying that Boston will always be racist. To them, I ask, how is that productive? You can be nasty and all that will do is put more toxicity out into the world. Or, acknowledge the people in Boston who are peacefully protesting, learning, donating, and wanting to make Boston a more inclusive place, and be a part of that positive change. Based on the plethora of problems we’re all currently facing, I’d say the last thing this world needs right now is more negativity.
What happened to Torii Hunter also happened to Adam Jones, and to countless other players over the years, and it can’t continue. In this day and age, it’s not enough to just not be racist. If Boston wants to change its image, then collectively, we all need to be vehemently and actively anti-racist. We need to take that “passion” that we reserve for our beloved sports teams (and traffic jams on the Pike) and channel it into positive change, and make this a safe, welcoming place for everyone. Changing Yawkey Way back to its original name, Jersey Street last year was a small first step, and this public admission is another step in the right direction, but the Red Sox need to do more. We all do. We have to acknowledge, unlearn, learn, and be allies. We need to protest, sign petitions, contact elected officials, donate, and vote.
As one of the wealthiest, most popular franchises in baseball and sports as a whole, the Red Sox have an opportunity to lead the way now. They will never be able to go back and sign Jackie Robinson, or erase the fact that they were the last team to integrate, twelve years after Jackie made his Dodgers debut. That will be a stain on their history forever. The torment that Torii Hunter, Adam Jones, and others experienced won’t be erased, either. But what the Red Sox can do is lead the way now, and fans can help them by demanding change and by making sure that what happened to Torii and Adam never happens to another player, employee, or person at Fenway ever again.
Going from last to first is kind of a Red Sox specialty. Let’s do it again.
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Photo: BJ Weiss / Boston Red Sox