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Racist heckling at Fenway pulls Boston into the ugly past

Orioles outfielder Adam Jones warmed up before Tuesday’s game at Fenway Park.Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

Thanks a lot, Anonymous Racist. Your decision to heckle Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones with racial slurs during the baseball game at Fenway Park on Monday night has reinforced all the worst fears about Boston’s lingering bigotry. Every time the city seems ready to move beyond its past, someone like you rises up from the swamp to revive it.

You might not even live in Boston, A.R., yet the city can’t escape the fact that it’s here where you felt safe to vent your hate. So, here we are again, under a harsh national spotlight. Jones, a five-time All Star, said he has heard racial abuse at other stadiums, but Boston’s stood out. “Tonight was one of the worst,’’ he told USA Today. A bag of peanuts was also thrown at him.

“Boo me, tell me I suck. Just leave the racial stuff out of it,” he said on Tuesday.

The Red Sox ejected the peanut-thrower and apologized to Jones, and the team is investigating. (The owner of the Sox, John Henry, also owns the Globe.) Local politicians lined up to denounce the incident on Twitter. “This is not what Massachusetts & Boston are about,” Governor Charlie Baker said.


That’s a nice sentiment, but unfortunately, it misses the point. Racism may not be what Massachusetts is about, but certainly there’s racism about in Massachusetts. Jones isn’t the first player to experience racist heckling recently; pitcher David Price said he heard racist comments at Fenway last season while he was warming up in the bullpen. C.C. Sabathia, the Yankees pitcher, said, “I’ve never been called the N word” except in Boston. “We all know. When you go to Boston, expect it.” Nor has the hate been confined to Sox fans: The racist abuse a handful of Bruins hurled at Joel Ward in 2012, or P.K. Subban in 2014, was just as loathsome. For whatever reason — could it be the beer? — sporting events in Boston bring out a certain concealed racist rage hiding inside some fans.

At minimum, some consequences for the heckler are appropriate. The NAACP called for a lifetime ban on entering Fenway, and Jones himself suggested levying fines. There are other ways of punishing the offender. Some of the Twitter trolls who targeted Ward were unmasked, and in at least one case fired from his job.


Ultimately, though, the city can’t punish its way out of its racism problem. The goal can’t be to prod bigots to do a better job keeping their views private, but to change attitudes altogether. Mayor Marty Walsh started a city-sponsored dialogue on racism in Boston last year. If incidents like Monday’s have any upside, it’s that they demonstrate just how urgently needed those discussions remain.