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Jock Talk: Shut their mouths

by Roger Brigham

Baltimore Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones.
Baltimore Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones.  

When it comes to racial equality and social acceptance, the Boston Red Sox have always been slow on the trigger. It will be interesting to see if the Major League Baseball franchise has learned from its checkered past and will act decisively following Monday's racial taunting of a visiting baseball player.

Baltimore Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones said he was repeatedly taunted during the May 1 game at Fenway Park with racial slurs, most notably the unspeakable N-word, by Boston fans and had a bag of peanuts thrown at him. He said Fenway fans had abused him before, but this was one of the worst experiences of his career.

"A disrespectful fan threw a bag of peanuts at me," Jones said. "I was called the N-word a handful of times tonight. Thanks. Pretty awesome. It's unfortunate that people need to resort to those type of epithets to degrade another human being. I'm trying to make a living for myself and for my family."

Red Sox officials said the fan who threw the peanuts was ejected from the game, but Jones said the team and stadium need to do more, calling the fan's removal "pathetic."

"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," Jones said. "Something that really hurts somebody. Make them pay in full. And if they don't, take it out of their check. That's how you hurt somebody. You suspend them from the stadium, what does that mean? It's a slap on the wrist. That guy needs to be confronted, and he needs to pay for what he's done. At the end of the day, when you throw an object onto the field of play, the player has no idea what it is. What if something hit me right in the eye and I can't play baseball anymore. Then what? I just wear it?"

Before most fans are settled into their seats, public announcers tell fans what they should already know - that if they get into fights, interfere with play of the ball or run on the field, they will be ejected. All true. But then they say "abusive language will not be tolerated," and I've heard enough homophobic, sexist and racist taunts in the stands to know that is not real. That is an alternative fact.

Every section at every major league stadium I've ever been too has its own staffer on patrol, whose primary function seems to be to make sure people aren't in the wrong seats, not whether fans are doing or saying the wrong things. Do they not hear the slurs? Are they deaf or indifferent to the meaning of those verbal assaults?

Now, the Red Sox historically have not been at the forefront of racial acceptance. Jackie Robinson broke baseball's unspoken but universally known color barrier when he debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 - six years before I was born. I was just shy of my sixth birthday when Elijah "Pumpsie" Green pinch ran for the Sox, making them the last major league team to integrate - having passed on previous opportunities to sign Robinson and Willie Mays.

In his book "Summer of '49," baseball author David Halberstam compared racism in the Yankees and Red Sox organizations in those years by writing, "The top management of the Red Sox was mostly Irish, the most powerful group in Boston. They had established their own pecking order, which in essence regarded WASPs with respect and grudging admiration for being where they already were; Jews with both admiration and suspicion for being smart, perhaps a little too smart; and Italians by and large with disdain for being immigrants and Catholic and yet failing to be Irish. Blacks were well below the Italians."

Think Boston is a bastion of progressive social acceptance and justice? Think again.

Let's hope the Red Sox follow up with more than words of apology and promises of better behavior in the future. They haven't worked in the past and there's no reason to expect they will in the future. It is high time to crack down on irresponsible fan abuse, behavior and language. Fans who don't know how to conduct themselves should have to undergo sensitivity training and provide community service before they are ever let back in the building or buy another bag of peanuts.

As Buster Olney wrote on ESPN.com, "Why should Adam Jones listen to it? Why should any player, any fan have to listen to it without consequences, any more than they would tolerate some idiot running around the field for nine innings, or somebody throwing punches in the center-field bleachers? If teams reinforce the language of the pregame warnings from the public address announcer, they can help embolden a silent majority - the tens of thousands of fans at each game who aren't yelling racist crap at players and who can point out to security the one or two who manage to demean everybody by deploying the N-word. The stakes will be raised, the culture shifted."

 

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