Athletes acknowledge the problem is bigger than one city or one sport
Image via Keith Allison/Flickr Creative Commons
The ugly incident Monday night where Boston Red Sox fans taunted Baltimore Orioles star Adam Jones with racist remarks and one spectator threw a bag of peanuts at him has led other athletes to step forward to discuss the racial abuse they’ve received from fans.
“It happens to you a lot more than people think,” Tampa Bay Rays’ first baseman Rickie Weeks told the Tampa Bay Times. “It happens. I'm not going to say it happened one, two, three, four, five times. It happens.”
“Nothing really shocks me,” Chicago Cubs’ Jason Heyward said to reporters before his game last night when asked about the incident. “I’m not saying that you expect it to happen, but you’re not surprised, I guess, just growing up African-American, growing up playing baseball.”
New York Yankees’ pitcher CC Sabathia also acknowledged that the 62 African-American players in the league discuss among themselves the treatment they receive from fans and singled out Boston as an especially inhospitable place. “I’ve never been called the N-word anywhere [but in Boston],” Sabathia said. “We know. There's 62 of us. We all know. When you go to Boston, expect it.”
But, in other players’ experience, racist taunts from the crowd are hardly contained to one city. “It’s not the only park I’ve been in where I’ve heard it,” Heyward said. “So that’s why I would say I’m not too surprised. And, again, when I say ‘not too surprised,’ I don’t mean it like ‘of course there.’”
And the abuse is hardly limited to just baseball fans. Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors told The Undefeated last night “I’ve gotten the N-word, all of that. I’d rather not get into [where]. A few places, especially being that it is me. Athletes are just not protected in that regard. Maybe something like [the the Adam Jones incident] will help.”
Green’s teammate, Steph Curry, echoed his sentiments and said that while progress has been made, there’s still a long way to go, because some people won’t even acknowledge a problem still exists. “People want to sweep stuff under the rug and turn a blind eye to what people go through every single day in terms of prejudice and racism,” Curry said.
Jones and Green have both called on the teams and leagues to offer players more protection from racist abuse in the wake of the incident. The Red Sox are exploring punishment for fans caught using racist language at games.
“We want to make sure that our fans know, and the market knows, that offensive language, racial taunts, slurs are unacceptable,” Red Sox president Sam Kennedy said last night. “If you do it, you’re going to be ejected. If you do it, you’re going to be subject to having your tickets revoked for a year, maybe for life. We’re going to look at that. We haven't made any firm decisions, but it just can’t happen.”
For years, European organizations have been trying to curtail racism and homophobia in the stands with mixed results. There have been harsher penalties for teams with racist fans, but incidents still persist. And in America, there’s been a growing sense that fan culture, in general, has crossed the line, with death threats made to referees and fights in the stands. While teams and leagues can do a lot to dissuade this behavior, it really does have to start with social pressure in the stands. Fans need to let other fans know that such disruptive behavior and racist remarks won’t be tolerated, because the teams can’t do it alone.