The wounds are always there, even if they’re not always visible from afar. Like the indentations on the Green Monster, they’re historical scars.
All it takes is a few ignorant people to reopen an old wound and reinforce an outdated stereotype. It was just 10 weeks ago that a segment of angry Bruins fans took to Twitter and spewed racially-charged insults at Washington Capitals forward Joel Ward, whose goal had eliminated the Bruins from the playoffs.
Now, we’ve been forced to confront Boston sports’ racial dark days again. Red Sox left fielder Carl Crawford, on a rehabilitation assignment with Double A Portland, had a fan direct a racist comment at him during Thursday night’s game in Manchester, N.H.
Crawford first said a fan called him a “racial slur” following the Manchester Fisher Cats’ 11-3 victory over Portland at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium. He elaborated on the allegation Friday night.
Speaking in the Red Sox clubhouse before the series opener against the Yankees, Crawford said he was signing autographs pregame when the fan called him a “Monday.” This is a less familiar racial epithet, one many people might not know as a derogatory term. Urban Dictionary defines “Monday” as “Another way of saying [the N-word] without getting caught.”
Its origins are traced to the bromide about nobody liking Mondays, the first day of the new work week.
“Of course I took it personally,” said Crawford, who has yet to play for the Red Sox this season because of wrist and elbow injuries. “You got to understand I’m from Texas, and I’ve never had to go through that kind of stuff before. It was kind of the first time it was just so much in your face like that. So, it is what it is.”
We should all take it personally, if it’s true.
Manchester is not Boston, but it still falls squarely within New England and the mythical territory of Red Sox Nation. Incidents such as the one Crawford alleges and what happened to Ward are a sporting black eye that could potentially make prominent African-American athletes think twice about wanting to play for New England sports teams.
It’s a case of past reality — Celtics legend Bill Russell, who is about to get his own statue in City Hall Plaza, once called Boston a “flea market of racism” — becoming current perception, fair or not.
Some will doubtlessly blame Crawford for fanning the flames. But why would a player, who has already incurred the wrath of Red Sox Nation for underperforming, court controversy when he’s on the verge of returning?
Crawford didn’t ask for this. He is adamant about what was said, and its intention.
“People can say that they didn’t hear it, but everyone knows I’m not going to get upset about something like that unless something really happened,” said Crawford. “It was a cowardly act, and like I said, if that’s the way they do things around there I don’t ever want to go there again.”
Fisher Cats president and general manager Rick Brenner said the club was unaware of any incident until it came up in Crawford’s press conference.
Issues with disruptive fans are handled by the Manchester Police and then relayed to the club. Manchester Police Sergeant Scott Fuller said Friday there was an issue with a fan heckling Crawford, and he was asked to stop. Police did not take the fan’s name, he said. However, Fuller said that the Manchester Police had no knowledge of the use of racial slurs.
Crawford had a different take.
“I told the police officer in the dugout, pointed [the fan] out to him and all that kind of stuff,” said Crawford. “Basically, I guess I was supposed to just take it and go on and keep playing. I guess that’s how they do things down there. I don’t want to be any part of that.”
The Fisher Cats said they have a policy of putting a local police officer in the dugout when major league players are on rehabilitation assignments.
Before Friday night’s Red Sox game, Brenner phoned the Sox and asked the team to relay a personal apology to Crawford. The Sox said Crawford appreciated it.
“We have a zero-tolerance policy and unfortunately the team’s management was not made aware of any issue until after the press conference,” Brenner told the Globe. “We respect Mr. Crawford and apologize for any insult he incurred while here. We invite him back any time, and will do all we can to make sure our policy is enforced.”
Crawford is the last player you would expect to stir up racial strife. Here was one of baseball’s preeminent African-American players in the prime of his career choosing to play for the Red Sox, the major league team that waited the longest to integrate, and nobody batted an eyelash.
It was a milestone that was a milestone because it wasn’t being celebrated.
I remember asking Crawford in spring training in 2011 if he had any concern about coming to Boston, and he said the only thing he was worried about was the actual climate, not the racial one. “The only thing we were worried about was the cold weather,” Crawford said then.
Crawford was supposed to mark a new chapter in Red Sox history. Instead, we are forced to contemplate the same old tired story of African-American ballplayers and Boston.
Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.