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Red Sox acknowledge racism at Fenway Park ‘is real,’ promise action

“Last year, there were 7 reported incidents at Fenway Park where fans used racial slurs. Those are just the ones we know about,” the Red Sox said in a statement. (Steven Senne/AP)

Last week, former major league outfielder Torii Hunter told ESPN’s “Golic and Wingo” show that he did “everything I [could] not to go to Boston” during his lengthy career, a feeling so strong that he had a no-trade clause to the Red Sox inserted into any contract he signed. Hunter’s reasoning was simple.

“I’ve been called the n-word in Boston 100 times, and I’ve said something about it,” he said. “It happened all the time, from little kids, and grown-ups right next to them didn’t say anything.”

On Wednesday night, as the national conversation over racism and police brutality in the United States continued amid the protests sparked by George Floyd’s death, the Red Sox acknowledged Hunter’s experiences as a black ballplayer at Fenway Park. Three words accompanied the statement: “This is real.”

“If you doubt him because you’ve never heard it yourself, take it from us, it happens,” the team wrote in a statement posted on social media, adding that there were seven reported incidents of fans using racial slurs at Fenway Park during the 2019 season alone.

“Those are just the ones we know about,” the team wrote.

Hunter merely was the latest black baseball player to come forward about racism at Fenway Park. In May 2017, then-Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said he was “called the n-word a handful of times” by Red Sox fans, who also threw a bag of peanuts at him.

“I just go out and play baseball,” Jones told reporters at the time. “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.

“It’s unfortunate. The best thing about myself is that I continue to move on and still play the game hard. Let people be who they are. Let them show their true colors.”

The Red Sox apologized to Jones and called the behavior “inexcusable,” and Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said it was “completely unacceptable.”

Said Boston Mayor Marty Walsh (D), “We are better than this.”

Earlier that year, Red Sox pitcher David Price also said he had been taunted racially at Fenway Park.

“Your ignorance is not going to affect what I’m trying to do,” he told the Boston Globe. “But I feel sad it’s still out there.”

The Red Sox have had a fraught racial history. Even though they were one of the first teams to offer a tryout to black players, they were the last team to actually desegregate when they called up Elijah “Pumpsie” Green from the minors in 1959, 12 years after Jackie Robinson broke MLB’s color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Tom Yawkey, the businessman who was the sole owner of the Red Sox for an MLB-record 44 seasons, had a chance to purchase the contract of a 17-year-old Negro Leagues player named Willie Mays in 1949, but he and General Manager Joe Cronin rejected the move.

“Cronin sent another scout down to look at him, but Yawkey and Cronin already had made up their minds they weren’t going to take any black players,” George Digby, the Red Sox scout who spotted Mays and wanted to sign him, told reporter Gordon Edes in 2005.

Robinson said Yawkey was “one of the most bigoted guys in baseball,” and in 2018, the city of Boston changed the name of a street outside Fenway Park from Yawkey Way back to Jersey Street, with team owner John Henry saying he was “haunted” by Yawkey’s legacy.