By Paul Lambert and DJ Lopes
When a new Red Sox ownership took over in 2002, one of its goals was to create a more family-friendly environment that would help enhance the overall legacy of the team. Another one of their challenges was to put their past to rest in regards to race relations.
Twice this year, however, the Red Sox and Boston have found themselves at the center of attention over racial issues, with multiple fans using racial slurs both at, and in reference to people of color on the field.
On May 1st, Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones was at the center of racist taunts, including a bag of peanuts being thrown his way. The next day, a fan was ejected for using a slur to describe the performance of a Kenyan woman singing the National Anthem.
The day after the Jones incident, Red Sox President Sam Kennedy and Principal owner John Henry visited the Orioles clubhouse to apologize to Jones, who was surprised the apology was even given, according to Kennedy.
“His attitude was one of ‘Hey guys, what are you doing here? Why are you apologizing? This isn’t your fault,”’ Kennedy said.
Kennedy has also taken steps to exercise the team’s zero-tolerance policy, ejecting and giving lifetime bans to fans who use these slurs toward people of color, in the case of the fan taunting the singer. Despite doubts that the system for banning fans is not strict enough, Kennedy assures that the process is less complicated than it may seem.
“Our top-level security brass throughout the organization know who this individual is. Through electronic communication and payment systems, we can track who’s buying our tickets and who’s not buying our tickets, so we can prohibit the individual from buying tickets vis-á-vis credit card.”
While he admits the system is not foolproof, Kennedy is highly confident in its effectiveness. He says that while the banned fan could find a way into the park, they are putting themselves at risk of trespassing.
Since the beginning of Kennedy’s involvement with the team in 2002, he can only recall two times a fan was banned, whether for a season or for life.
Red Sox historian Gordon Edes sees the improvement within the ballpark. He remembers a time when it was nearly impossible to speak out against injustice without fear of physical harm from hecklers.
Communications Director Zineb Curran highlighted multiple new features for speaking out, including sending texts to Red Sox security or contacting any usher in the stands.
Kennedy has been an integral force behind some of the projects that get people of all backgrounds involved in baseball. From funding the local RBI league for inner-city youth, the BASE program, the Boston Church League, and Massachusetts Little League teams, Kennedy insures that people of all backgrounds are involved.
While some fans may believe that winning is everything, Kennedy said he doesn’t think the most important work the Red Sox ownership has done will be represented by championships.
“They [the ownership] may go down in history and be remembered moreso for what they did to change the operation of the ballpark and the culture and the mindset of the Red Sox and Fenway than even winning World Series.”