This story has been updated.
As momentum for anti-racism continues to build in the sports world, the Boston Red Sox have gotten involved with their own statement on the matter.
“The Red Sox have zero tolerance for such inexcusable behavior, and our entire organization and fans are sickened by the conduct of an ignorant few,” the Red Sox said. “Such conduct should be reported to Red Sox security, and any spectator behaving in this manner forfeits his/her right to remain in the ballpark, and may be subject to further action.”
Boston’s mayor, Marty Walsh, agreed with the assessment of racist behavior at Fenway Park, saying in his own statement, “This is unacceptable and not who we are as a city. These words and actions have no place in Fenway, Boston, or anywhere else. We are better than this.”
And Charlie Baker, the governor of Massachusetts, added in a tweet, “This is not what Massachusetts & Boston are about.”
Wait, Baker’s tweet referenced “Fenway fans behavior at the #RedSox game last night.”
There was no Red Sox game last night.
Ah, this Red Sox statement, and the Walsh statement, and the Baker tweet, all were from 2017, when then-Orioles center fielder Adam Jones was subjected to racial slurs and had a bag of peanuts thrown at him from the stands.
The Red Sox did release a statement on Wednesday, reacting to five-time All-Star Torii Hunter’s story of abuse from Boston fans over the course of his career.
“Torii Hunter’s experience is real,” the Red Sox posted. “If you doubt him because you’ve never heard it yourself, take it from us, it happens. Last year there were 7 reported incidents at Fenway Park where fans used racial slurs. Those are just the ones we know about. And it’s not only players. It happens to the dedicated Black employees who work for us on game days. Their uniforms may be different, but their voices and experiences are just as important.
“We are grateful to everyone who has spoken up and remain committed to using our platform to amplify the many voices who are calling out injustice. There are well-established consequences for fans who use racial slurs and hate speech in our venue, and we know we have more work to do. This small group of fans does not represent who we are, but are rather a reflection of larger systemic issues that as an organization we need to address. True change starts from within, and as we identify how we can do better, please know we are listening. We hear you, and we believe you.”
The main difference between now and 2017 is that the Red Sox are acknowledging that racism at the ballpark is more than a one-off occurrence. But in addressing what actions go with these words, the Sox leaned back on what they did three years ago.
“We have a zero tolerance policy regarding racial slurs or inappropriate language and behavior of any kind, and we are committed to ensuring that everyone visiting the ballpark feels safe and welcome,” Red Sox vice president of corporate communication Zineb Curran told Deadspin. “Our ‘Code of Conduct’ was revised in 2017 to specifically include hate speech as an offense.”
The revision to the Code of Conduct clearly has not stopped these incidents from occurring, not with seven reported last year and an acknowledgement that those seven only represent what came to the organization’s attention.
The Red Sox do print a security hotline number on the back of every ticket and display it on stadium video screens periodically throughout games, and reporting of incidents also can be done through the MLB Ballpark app. But the key isn’t just getting people to report racist incidents, it’s keeping racist incidents from happening in the first place.
“A lifetime ban may be one of the ways we enforce our rules, and should a banned fan be caught at the ballpark, they will be subject to trespassing and possibly arrest,” Curran said. “When a fan is banned, they are informed verbally and in writing that they have been banned from the ballpark. We also flag that individual’s credit card and prevent them from being able to purchase tickets directly from the organization. Key Red Sox security personnel are also aware of banned individuals.”
You can see where the “purchase tickets directly from the organization” part creates a loophole, and Curran did admit, “We fully understand this is not a perfect or infallible system but they are some of the steps we take.”
There are more steps that could be taken, but are not. Curran said that the Red Sox do not share information on banned fans with secondary market ticket sellers. Given the prevalence of outlets such as StubHub and SeatGeek, especially for teams like the Red Sox for whom tickets are hard to come by in the first place, that would seem to be a logical step.
BeyondFurther to working with corporate ticket brokers in a world where phone apps — rather than giving cash to a guy in Kenmore Square barking, “Who needs two?” — are the most common way to get tickets without going through the team itself, it would make sense for the Red Sox to partner with their fellow Boston teams to bar racists from their games. Yell the N-word at Fenway? Well, now you’re not welcome to come see the Bruins, Celtics, or Patriots games, either.
Update: Two of the Red Sox’s neighboring teams issued statements to Deadspin on Thursday.
From the Patriots: “We will work with anyone to eliminate hate speech. Starting over 30 years ago, when the Krafts bought Foxboro Stadium, they insisted on a code of conduct and took strong measures to revoke season tickets for inappropriate behavior, both verbal and physical behavior, by season ticket members.”
From the Celtics: “The Boston Celtics hold a zero tolerance policy towards racism and hate speech of any kind. Fans involved in such incidents are subject to immediate ejection. Additionally, it is our policy to work with TD Garden security to immediately initiate a detailed review of any reported conduct following the incident. Confirmation of such behavior will result in a lifetime ban from Celtics games. If it is determined that a fan in violation of our Code of Conduct purchased tickets through a broker, warnings are issued and we reserve the right to pull those locations.”
Really, bans could extend to entire leagues. If you’re a person who goes to a sporting event and uses racial slurs, you shouldn’t be going to sporting events because you’re unfit for public society. If a baker can have the constitutional right not to make a cake for gay people, why couldn’t Major League Baseball, the NBA, the NFL, and the NHL band together to say that they’ll deny service to people whose actions actually are harmful to others, unlike a loving couple wanting to celebrate their marriage?
The Red Sox already do work with their fellow Boston teams, including the New England Revolution of MLS and the NWHL’s Boston Pride, on an initiative called Take The Lead.
“We established that partnership in 2017 and it is ongoing,” Curran said. “In addition to preventing racism and hate speech in our venues, we also hold annual job fairs and run a fellowship program to ensure diverse candidates have access and opportunities to pursue a career in sports.”
But while Boston’s teams collaborate on positive steps for the future, there is more that they can do together to address the present.There are actions available to be taken, beyond leaning on a code of conduct that isn’t stopping racists from doing racist stuff at their ballpark. It’s up to the Red Sox to take real steps forward. Unless the Red Sox have a plan to do more to fight racism at Fenway, the words in their statement this week remain interchangeable with their words in 2017 and just as toothless.