Racial slurs at Fenway prompt much-needed conversation

BOSTON -- Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones called it the worst instance of fan abuse in his 12-year major league career, and for that, Boston Red Sox principal owner John Henry made an in-person apology. But there was something good that came out of an ugly night at Fenway Park.

It started a conversation.

On Tuesday, one night after Jones said he heard racial taunts, including "the N-word a handful of times," he stood in front of a horde of cameras and microphones and talked about race in America, or at least in America's ballparks.

"It was just the right time," said Jones, who received a standing ovation before his first at-bat Tuesday night. "It was something that was on my mind. It was frustrating to me. I'm a grown man with a family to raise, so I'm not just going to let nobody sit there and berate me."

Across the field, in the Red Sox clubhouse, outfielders Jackie Bradley Jr. and Chris Young showed support for Jones by discussing their experiences with fan abuse. During batting practice, Red Sox president Sam Kennedy said several players told him during a team meeting earlier in the day that they, too, have been victims of racism, either at Fenway Park or elsewhere around the league.

Nearly 200 miles away, at Yankee Stadium, New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia told reporters that visiting players "expect" racial slurs when they come to Fenway and said he has "never been called the N-word" anywhere but Boston. And before a game in Houston, Texas Rangers outfielder Delino DeShields said he was the target of racist comments at Yankee Stadium in 2015.

All of these discussions were had because Jones decided late Monday night he was tired of turning the other cheek.

"It doesn't really matter where it happens," Young said. "Has it happened to me before? Yes. It's happened to probably the majority of black players in the game -- and not just black players. It happens to Latin guys as well, or anyone who's different from whatever the norm is considered to be. But it's very upsetting. It's very upsetting because it happens in environments where you're surrounded by 35,000 people, you have kids in the stadium. This kind of stuff is passed down. Hate is taught. You don't want to be in an environment where kids can hear things like that.

"It's unfortunate that there's people like that in this world, because there's no place for it, and it gives a bad face to the fans. Luckily, it's coming to light. Jonesy spoke on it, and that's great."

Maybe Jones will inspire other athletes to do the same. After all, they have the platform to influence the discourse at a time when the rhetoric tends to run hot.

Jones, 31, has strong opinions on plenty of topics. Usually, unless it's related to baseball, he steers clear of speaking out publicly, because there's not much upside to being shouted down on social media by people who believe he should "stick to sports."

That's the default position for most athletes. Asked about Jones' experience, Bradley said, "I got a lot on my mind about that, but right now, I feel like less is going to be more in the current situation, just because I want the focus to be on my team. And I don't want any outside distractions for me, my family, my teammates."

But the more Bradley spoke, the more emotional he got.

"It's very unfortunate that, in this particular time, we still have to deal with those certain things, and it's disheartening. It really is," he said. "I don't want it to be something where one [intolerant] person dictates how everyone feels because it's not the truth. But I feel like that person, if that's really how they feel, then we should all know who it is. ... It's hurtful, and that kind of action, it will not be tolerated. I just want everyone to show love."

The Red Sox have four African-American players on their 40-man roster: Bradley, Young, right fielder Mookie Betts and injured pitcher David Price, who told the Boston Globe a few months ago that he experienced racial slurs last season during his first year with the Red Sox.

Jones said he heard directly from Betts and Price on Tuesday night. Kennedy and Henry told Jones they might consider season or lifetime bans for fans who are caught yelling racial slurs. Betts posted a tweet in which he asked the fans who were attending Tuesday night's game to stand and cheer for Jones as a demonstration that Boston doesn't condone what happened one night earlier.

Sure enough, Red Sox starter Chris Sale took a walk around the mound and allowed fans the time for a sustained, partial standing ovation before Jones' at-bat in the first inning.

See what happens when the conversation begins?

"Let's be honest with ourselves: It's all about having a conversation," Jones said. "Once you have that dialogue, that means you can work toward something."