“It’s unfortunate that people need to resort to those types of epithets to degrade another human being,” Jones told reporters after the game. “I’m trying to make a living for myself and my family.” With little other recourse, Jones simply shrugged it off: “Let people be who they are,” he said. “Let them show their true colors.”
Unfortunately, the sort of treatment Jones experienced — and not for the first time, he said — has been a fact of life for generations of black big-leaguers at Fenway, where the intersection of race and baseball has “a history that is maddeningly and importantly present,” according to author Howard Bryant (a former Washington Post sportswriter) in his book, “Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston.”
“As a black player, the Red Sox brought out that little something in all of us,” longtime New York Yankees second baseman Willie Randolph told Bryant. “You want to win every game, of course, but believe me, every black player in that Yankee clubhouse wanted to beat Boston even more.”
And it isn’t just visiting players who have had to deal with the abuse of racist fans at Fenway. Carl Crawford and David Price are among the Red Sox players who have reported racist taunting from their own fans.
“It got pretty rough,” Price told the Boston Globe about the abuse he received in 2016, his first season with the Red Sox. “ … I got it all. There’s nothing you can say to me that I haven’t heard before. Your ignorance is not going to affect what I’m trying to do. But I feel sad it’s still out there.”
That this type of behavior still happens, and that players such as Jones and Price have to tolerate it with such familiar resignation, is a huge problem for Major League Baseball, which has spent massive amounts of money and effort to bring African Americans back to the sport, both on the playing field — where just 62 black players were listed on Opening Day rosters — and in the stands.
Obviously, not every Red Sox fan at Fenway Park on Monday night was a racist, and it is possible the pent-up animosity between the Red Sox and Orioles over last week’s incidents at Camden Yards — when Orioles superstar Manny Machado took out Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia with a hard slide, and Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes retaliated two days later by throwing a pitch near Machado’s head — may have contributed to the tense atmosphere.
But those are no excuses for the prolonged treatment that Jones was forced to endure. Red Sox officials told USA Today that the fan who threw the bag of peanuts at Jones was located and escorted from the stadium, and police on Tuesday put the number of ejections at 34.
You’d like to think one use of a racist taunt, especially the n-word, would be enough to get someone ejected from a ballpark. You’d like to think the ushers in that section would react swiftly, and that the other fans would self-police the situation and turn in the offender. You’d like to think prominent Red Sox players would speak out against that type of behavior.
“The Red Sox have zero tolerance for such inexcusable behavior, and our entire organization and our fans are sickened by the conduct of an ignorant few,” Red Sox President Sam Kennedy said in a statement on Tuesday morning in which the team apologized to Jones. “Such conduct should be reported immediately to Red Sox security, and any spectator behaving in this manner forfeits his/her right to remain in the ballpark, and may be subject to further action. Our review of [Monday] night’s events is ongoing.”
In the Boston Globe story detailing Price’s treatment, the veteran lefty singled out his bullpen catcher, the Fenway Park guards and a policeman assigned to the Red Sox’s bullpen as standing up for him against the taunting. But clearly, something more needs to change.
This fight shouldn’t be Jones’s, or Price’s, to endure alone. It needs to be everybody’s fight, from the decent fans who fill Fenway each night, to the security personnel whose vigilance is required, and to players from both sides. And especially to officials from the Red Sox and Major League Baseball, who need to make it clear — with something more than words — that the type of behavior Jones received on Monday night can never be tolerated.