It was an early birthday present for Calvin Hennick’s son, Nile — an outing to a Red Sox game, the first for the beaming youngster who turns 6 on Thursday.
Fenway Park fans had just cheered Orioles center fielder Adam Jones, who, the night before, was the target of a racial slur and a bag of peanuts hurled by a Boston fan. A Kenyan woman finished singing the national anthem, and Hennick basked in the unity of that song, sung by a woman of color, a moment of hope after the disturbing episode the night before.
And then it happened. A middle-aged white man, wearing a Red Sox hat and T-shirt, leaned over to Hennick and used a racial slur to describe the woman’s rendition of the anthem.
Once Hennick notified team security, the man who uttered the epithet was ejected and barred for life from Fenway. Team officials said the lifetime ban appears to be highly unusual, if not unprecedented. Red Sox president Sam Kennedy called Hennick on Wednesday to apologize for what happened, according to Sox spokeswoman Zineb Curran. And Hennick said the Boston Police Department’s civil rights division contacted him to discuss the episode.
The 35-year-old Hennick, who is white and who formerly freelanced for the Globe, had spent Tuesday “mentally defending” Boston after the Jones incident, thinking about how he had chosen this area to raise his interracial family. Sitting next to Hennick in the ballpark was his father-in-law, who is black, and Hennick’s son.
When he heard the other fan’s hateful words, he was “aghast. But I wanted to be 100 percent sure I heard him right,” Hennick said.
Surely, Hennick thought, he must have misheard. The Jones incident had made nationwide news Tuesday and revived public recollections of Boston’s painful history on matters of race.
So Hennick asked if he had correctly understood the man and then repeated what he thought the man had just said.
“Yes, that’s what I said, and I stand by it,” the other fan told Hennick.
That’s not OK, Hennick said to the man. You can’t say that, he told the man.
“Why not?” the man replied.
At that point, Hennick stood up and found an usher, who immediately summoned Red Sox security. They ushered Hennick’s family out of the grandstand and offered them better seats. Then, they asked Hennick to join them in the concourse to identify the man and repeat what was said.
“I was totally happy to do that because if he was going to deny it, I wanted him to deny it to my face like the coward he was,” Hennick said.
The man disavowed using the slur. But the Red Sox still decided to take action.
Now Hennick, who has lived in the Boston area with his wife for the past decade and not faced harassment, wonders if he and his family have just been fortunate. Hennick, who recounted the Fenway incident in a Facebook post, said he worries that attitudes underlying such racial epithets speak to larger problems with equal access to education and health care.
“This makes you wonder how many people are thinking [racist thoughts] and not saying it,” he said. “People are feeling very comfortable with bigotry that we haven’t seen in a long time.”
Hennick credited the Red Sox with handling the situation quickly.
Wednesday night, Kennedy came to the press box and told reporters that he wanted to “send a message loud and clear that the behavior, the language, the treatment of others that you’ve heard about and read about is not acceptable. It’s not acceptable to the Red Sox, it’s not acceptable to John Henry, [team chairman] Tom Werner, or any of the men and women that work here.’’
He thanked Hennick for alerting an usher to the behavior of the fan, and said the team wants to be “at the forefront of this discussion to try and improve in this area.’’
“It’s disheartening, saddening, maddening,’’ Kennedy said of the racist behavior. “That said, we have to recognize that this exists in our culture, it exists in Boston, and it exists in other cities around the world. It’s not an indictment on Boston and this marketplace, it’s an indictment on the ignorant people and intolerant people who utter these words and say these things and they need to be held accountable.’’
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Major League Baseball said it was reviewing its security protocols in all 30 stadiums after the incident involving Jones, to see how teams handle reports of slurs and other offensive behavior, according to the Associated Press.
Each team has a mechanism for fans to alert security to issues, but the teams have different protocols and practices in each stadium, the AP said.
While giving the Red Sox high marks for their handling of the Jones and Hennick incidents, Tanisha Sullivan, president of the Boston branch of the NAACP, said both episodes illustrate that racism still breathes in this city.
She said the Sox, whose principal owner also owns the Globe, cannot police every person who visits the park, and that it is incumbent on each person to stand up to racism when encountering it.
“This is a cancer that is running rampant through our community, and we collectively have to work together to root it out,” Sullivan said.
As she watched the Red Sox game Tuesday night, with thousands of fans offering Jones a standing ovation, Sullivan wondered whether the public embrace of the player would shift the long-running narrative in the city — both the high-profile incidents and the everyday examples as well.
“We espouse diversity. We say we are a leading sanctuary city, but we are not consistently getting this right when it comes to race,” Sullivan said. “We need a readjustment so our actions are aligned with our values and our values are aligned with our actions.”