Fenway: the past is now?

Fans’ racial slurs at Fenway Park this week led to national news stories about Boston as a racist city.  People are all too quick to believe that and damn the city, as did Saturday Night Live’s Michael Che several weeks ago. The same attitude was reflected by Stephen Colbert on CBS and headliners on CNN and elsewhere.

But Boston’s long history of institutional racism, highlighted in the busing era, red-lined housing patterns and discriminatory banking, doesn’t warrant the assumption that recent slurs, however despicable,  mean nothing has changed here in the last four decades.  Or that such incidents don’t happen in other cities and other sports. Consider the anti-Semitism of Dutch soccer fans.

Still, the progress that has been made doesn’t mean the task is over. We are reminded of the ongoing challenge every time an African-American offered a job in Boston demurs because of the city’s reputation for racial problems. In the end, this longstanding reputation harms its economy, its culture, its educational institutions and its future.

Sports, beer and testosterone in the stands are a combination that can bring out the worst in a small minority of individuals. The Fenway incidents were totally unacceptable and deserve the condemnation they have received.  Local and state officials, columnists and the ownership of the Red Sox all voiced their outrage, and the Sox banned for life the fan who, on Tuesday night, used the N word to describe the singing of the Kenyan woman who performed the National Anthem.

What was different that night (as compared to Monday evening when a fan slurred Baltimore outfielder Adam Jones and a bag of peanuts was thrown at the Baltimore dugout) was that another fan sought out security personnel. They, in turned, ejected the ignoramus, which led to his losing access to the Park for life.  Fans must also do their part. Those who remain silent when they hear such vile comments are culpable as well. There is a societal responsibility to stand up for inclusiveness and demonstrate zero tolerance for racism.

Today’s Red Sox organization is a far cry from the bad old days chronicled in former Boston Herald sports writer Howard Bryant’s book Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston.  But team brass need to go still further. It should hold a season ticket holder responsible for the behavior of his guests or others who share his seats. The primary owner of the seats should lose the privilege if others abuse their access. The team should also seed the park with plainclothes security people, seated among the fans, to ensure the safety and civility of the crowd.

The toxic national political atmosphere may be a dog whistle for ignorant scumbags nursing hatreds to bring them out in the open.  The Trump presidency seems to have broadened the definition of acceptable targets for discrimination. That new atmosphere of viciousness makes it all the more important for the overwhelming majority to reject hateful acts whenever they cross our paths.

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