When Adam Jones went to the outfield Monday night, he experienced a side of Fenway Park that was decidedly not friendly — a taste of the true, enduring curse of Boston sports.
Jones, the Baltimore Orioles center fielder, was greeted with a racist taunt and jeers. A fan threw a bag of peanuts at him as he jogged back to the dugout. Some fans were ejected. The Red Sox publicly apologized to Jones, who is African-American, Tuesday.
Boston’s longstanding reputation for racism had received another boost, just what we didn’t need. No matter how far the city advances in accepting and celebrating its growing diversity — and it has come a long way — a few hard-hearted leather lungs can take us right back. History haunts us.
Jones has played for the Orioles at Fenway since 2007. But Monday night? “Tonight was one of the worst,’’ Jones said. “It’s unfortunate that people need to resort to those type of epithets to degrade another human being. I’m out there trying to make a living for myself and for my family.”
Charges that playing in Boston is exceptionally difficult for players of color have been made for decades, and they are true. Some other Red Sox spoke up yesterday to say they too have been the butt of ugly epithets from fans. And the pattern isn’t limited to Fenway Park, either.
When I heard what happened to Jones, I immediately thought of a conversation I had recently with a retired football player named Gosder Cherilus.
Cherilus, who is black, grew up in Somerville, and became a football star at Boston College, from which he emerged as a first-round draft choice in 2008. He’d had nothing but good experiences playing college ball here for BC.
So when he was a member of the Indianapolis Colts a few years ago, he was shocked by something he heard from one of his teammates the week of the Patriots game about what to expect in Foxborough.
“One of the veterans started saying, ‘Black guys, you better get ready. There’s nothing like playing there. You’re gonna hear a lot of stuff.’ ”
At first, Cherilus was mad. “Being from Boston, I was offended. But he was right. Once the game started, it was n-this and n-that. All kinds of taunts. It was never like that anywhere else I ever played. Only here.”
This week’s incident with Jones has revived the painful history of the Red Sox and race. They were the last team to integrate, and were plagued for years by racist incidents. Tom Yawkey was the owner who took a pass on Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays. Yawkey Way is named for a bigot — no matter how extensive his philanthropy — and it should be renamed.
It’s tempting to dismiss as overblown the recent charge of a “Saturday Night Live’ comedian that Boston is the most racist city he’s ever visited. But there’s no way to ignore racist taunts at Fenway. Taking in a Red Sox game is one of the quintessential Boston experiences. If this is an expression of even part of what Boston is, that is utterly unacceptable.
As a fan who heads over to Fenway at any opportunity, I have to say that Jones’s experience didn’t come as a complete shock. While the rowdy behavior that was a regular feature of games years ago has largely been stamped out, visiting players remain fair game for abuse — including racial epithets.
What really strikes me is how often players say Boston is worse than other places. All stadiums are full of passionate fans. All ballparks have a few fans who may have had one beer too many. Yet our lyric little bandbox, as John Updike put it, is said to be worst place to be a black player in center field. That’s sickening.
Bad behavior can be stopped. When Sox management decided to stop the “Yankees Suck” cheer a decade ago, they figured out how to stop it. When knuckleheads took to tossing around inflatable female dolls in the bleachers, they stopped it. This can be stopped too — by, for example, kicking offenders out long term.
I want to believe that the acts of a few dozen haters don’t exemplify the city Boston has become — and that those who gave Adam Jones a rousing ovation Tuesday night do. But the bad actors do reflect, sad to say, how we continue to be known.