Old wounds never truly heal. They scab over, leave behind scars, but they never go away. Such is the case with racism and the United States, specifically in sports.
Race plays an unfortunately big role in baseball. It’s been that way since the earliest days of the game. Some of the greatest players to ever play never got to do so in the majors thanks to Kenesaw Mountain Landis’ infamous Gentleman’s Agreement with MLB owners to keep non-white ballplayers out of the game. Eventually, progress would forever banish the old ways to the history books.
Color barriers were broken. Baseball opened its borders and eventually became an international phenomenon, forever changing the face of the sport. From Jackie Robinson to Luis Aparicio, Sandy Koufax to Satchel Paige, Ernie Banks to Roberto Clemente, Henry Aaron to Ichiro, Ken Griffey, Jr. to Andrew McCutcheon, Manny Ramirez to Manny Machado, baseball is now a game for more than just white men.
That sadly doesn’t prevent people from reminding us of the “good ol’ days.”
On Monday night, Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones was heckled by unruly Boston fans at Fenway Park with some racial epithets. One fan, in particular, hurled racist remarks and a bag of peanuts at Jones while he was in the dugout. Rightfully upset at the events that transpired, Jones told the press that this night stood out for all of the wrong reasons:
“Tonight was one of the worst,’’ Jones said, slowly exhaling, “it’s different. Very unfortunate. It is what it is, right. I just go out and play baseball.
“But it’s unfortunate that people need to resort to those type of epithets to degrade another human being. I’m out there trying to make a living for myself and for my family.
“The best thing about myself is that I know how to continue to move on, and still play the game hard. Let people be who they are. Let them show their true colors.’’
He continued by stating that stadiums should enact harsher penalties on fans caught heckling players with racist taunts, including thousand-dollar fines and lifetime bans.
Should we still be surprised when drunk fans pop off “n-words” and other disgusting comments towards opposing black players anymore? No, but we should ideally strive to be something greater. Luckily on Tuesday night, the fans at Fenway rose to the occasion.
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) May 2, 2017
Does this ovation undo the events from the night before? Hardly, but consider this. Adam Jones has spent his entire career as an opponent in Fenway. He has not once worn a Red Sox uniform, nor is he from the Boston area. Typically when an opposing player gets a standing ovation, they’re playing their first game against their former team or on their way to ending an outstanding career.
This is a classy move from a group of fans known for their rabid loyalty to their teams for better and for worse. Of course, racist insults aren’t exclusive to just Bostonians.
Far too many fans across the spectrum of professional sports throw racial slurs at opposing players. This has been a problem since day one of American sports and continues to plague leagues across the world. Just ask American soccer player Jozy Altidore or Canadian hockey forward Wayne Simmonds. This isn’t news to anyone paying attention.
Perhaps the Adam Jones Incident stands out more than it usually would thanks to the current political climate. We live in a time where the President of the United States signs executive orders to ban refugees from Muslim countries, pledges to build a wall to keep Mexicans from crossing the border, hires known anti-Semites and racists to influential positions within his administration, and whose very election elicted celebratory hate crimes around the nation. Racism is not some marginal issue that happens in the backdrop of our daily lives.
It’s alive, well, and spreading.
The ovation for Jones at Fenway shines a glimmer of hope for the future. Even though the Red Sox and Orioles continue a crazy feud that has boiled between both clubs since Opening Week, we as baseball fans can look proudly at the moment Red Sox fans decided to embrace Adam Jones the human being despite the color of his jersey.
But we can’t forget about the event that sparked Tuesday’s nice moment in the first place.
Earlier that day, a few Cubs were asked to provide their thoughts on the Adam Jones Incident. Jason Heyward, Carl Edwards, Jr., and Kyle Schwarber all provided good takes. But the best statement came from the skipper himself, Joe Maddon. After recalling an incident from the ’80s that disturbed him during his days in minor league baseball, Joe offered a simple solution:
“At some point, you have to do something about it,” Maddon said. “You can’t just listen to it.”
One round of applause can’t erase decades of ignorance. It can, however, begin to cover that old wound with some sort of protective dressing. It may feel like using a bandaid to cover the Grand Canyon, but it’s better than enlarging that gap with an earthquake.
So for one night, let’s salute the Fenway faithful for showing some measure of decorum and humanity. Everyone can take away an iota of knowledge with them to help combat the next racist outburst, no matter where it is or whomever throws that stone.
Friends don’t let friends degrade society with ignorant prejudice and malice. We don’t have time for any of that anymore.