By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) Let’s check in on some fun at the ol’ ballpark, shall we? We head to Boston, beacon of the American Revolution and city with a 21st-century reputation for being pretty overtly racist, depending on which privileged person you ask.
Following collective New England gasping over comedian Michael Che’s claim on Saturday Night Live that Beantown is “the most racist city I’ve ever been to,” Renée Graham wrote this past March:
For all its sophistication, Boston is very parochial. That can be especially acute for people of color who despite years, even decades, here, still find boundaries they are reluctant to cross. Boston has worked to repair its reputation, but that work remains incomplete. The question isn’t whether this city is racist, but what its citizens, business leaders and elected officials plan to do beyond occasionally talking about it. Perhaps a solid first step will be for people to be as outraged by the racism that clings to Boston like a second skin as they are by a comedian who had the audacity to call it out.
Before moving on, I will note that as I write this from Chicago, I ‘m well aware of our own Midwestern issues with racism and am not here to pile on Boston from some less-civically-racister-than-thou high horse. An argument can be made that I live in the most segregated place in the country. Another case can be made just 90 minutes north in Milwaukee. Racism is predominantly not tipped toward a coast or puddled in the sagging plains.
Anyway, back to baseball, where an ugly incident occurred Monday night at Fenway Park in a game between the Red Sox and Orioles.
“A disrespectful person threw a bag of peanuts at me and I got called the ‘N’ word a handful of times,” Orioles outfielder Adam Jones told the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo after the game. “It was pretty awesome out there. Just part of the job, right? That’s one of the worst nights.”
“One of the worst nights” suggests this isn’t Jones’ first rodeo with racist fans. We know it’s not his first time speaking out on issues of race in the game. When discussion (and loud racist yelling) about for San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s social protest and those of other NFL players was top of mind last football season, Jones spoke of its relationship to baseball.
“(African American players) already have two strikes against us already,’’ he told USA Today, “so you might as well not kick yourself out of the game. In football, you can’t kick them out. You need those players. In baseball, they don’t need us.
“Baseball is a white man’s sport.’’
More than two-thirds of NFL players are black. On the flip side, Jones is one of 62 black players on Opening Day MLB rosters, about only 8 percent of the league. Current Red Sox pitcher David Price and former Red Sox outfielder Carl Crawford say they’ve heard racist taunts in Boston, too, Carfardo reported. Its doubtful that Fenway is the only ballpark in which this still occurs, though.
Besides being sick for Jones at having to endure what he did Monday in Boston and being reminded that for every one of those incidents there are dozens more in major and minor sporting events across the country that don’t reach public knowledge, I was immediately bothered that I didn’t know the name(s) of the bigoted offender(s).
“It’s very unfortunate to be honest with you,” Jones told reporters. “I heard there were 50-60 ejections tonight in the ballpark. It is what it is. I just go out and try to play baseball.”
The Red Sox said there were fewer than 30 fan ejections Monday night, Cafardo reported. Only Two-and-a-half dozen-ish? Like it’s a good thing.
“They found him,” Jones said of the peanut tosser. “It’s unfortunate. Pathetic. What they need to do is instead of kicking people out of the stadium, they need to fine them 10 grand, 20 grand, 30 grand, and then make them pay in full and if they don’t, take it out of their check. That’s how you hurt somebody. Kicking them out of the stadium, what does that mean? It’s a slap on the wrist. The guy needs to be confronted and needs to pay for what he does.
“What if something hit me in the eye and I can’t play baseball anymore?”
Jones is right that there needs to be sterner responses in dealing with idiots at sporting events. Merely kicking them out solves nothing in the long term and does little to act as a deterrent from idiots breaking the barrier between fan and game.
Running on the field is already a crime, inherently involving a person’s name submitted to the public record, yet throwing objects onto a field of play doesn’t seem to be treated as such. This should change immediately, because changing a culture in which a scumbag like the Boston peanut tosser felt emboldened enough — greased by alcohol or not — to partake in such an act and in which sports fans anywhere in this country think a ticket into a game is license to be an open bigot doesn’t come about with anonymous expulsions from the game.
I’m not against financially crushing racists, but levying such a fine would also involve something more important — naming the offenders publicly. I want that person’s name on the local news and slathered across the internet forever. Jones is going to remember being called the N-word by a fan for the rest of his life, so that stain should be on the perpetrator as well. Make it mandatory that stadiums keep a public record of those banned for compromising the well-being of game participants.
A ballpark shouldn’t be the equivalent of social media, where some Pepe frog can barge in, spew anonymous vile hate and suffer only the consequence of being blocked from Twitter or a stadium. Name them.
Force their working lives to be endangered if they feel in their rights to do the same to an athlete or coach or referee. More importantly, force a public shaming so large that maybe such a turd will have to do some self-reflection about his or her own stink that maybe leads to some personal betterment. Maybe a nut-chucker ends up meeting with an Adam Jones and having a meaningful conversation.
This is unlikely, as such people when called out shift to defensive or projecting mode 99 percent of the time. But at least it will reduce the likelihood of players like Jones dealing with racial epithets and projectiles at their workplace. It will help minimize the feeling of certain court of public opinion protections many bigots today feel they have.
And at least there’s a better chance decent people won’t get stuck sitting next to someone like this the next time they take in a game.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.