Adam Jones, center fielder for the Baltimore Orioles, said fans at Fenway Park threw peanuts at him and shouted the n-word. The Red Sox — and many other prominent Boston figures — have not only apologized, but taken action. Take note: if your organization gets in trouble, this is a case study in how to respond properly.
To understand this incident, you need to understand the context. There is a history of racism in Boston, most notably from forced school busing for desegregation in the 70s and 80s. It was also the last baseball team in the major leagues to field a black ballplayer, in 1959. Racial tensions in the modern era are not nearly so bad, but as with any city, there are still some racists here. Some of those racists go to Fenway Park, get drunk, and shout hateful things.
And things are tense right now between the Orioles and Red Sox. Two weeks ago an Orioles player inadvertently spiked and injured a Red Sox player, and since then both teams’ pitchers have thrown balls at opposing batters. If there was a time for an Orioles player to get upset with the people in Boston, this is that time.
The Red Sox acknowledged and responded quickly to the accusations
The instinct of an organization facing an accusation like this is to defend itself. And it would have been easy to do that. All Red Sox management had to say is “We know there are a few racist fans out there, but there’s no systematic racism in Boston, and nobody can actually prove that anybody said anything bad to Adam Jones.” That would have been natural, true, cowardly, and most importantly, ineffective. Because this incident confirms a bias people have about Boston and the Red Sox, it was not going to go away.
Instead, the Red Sox released this statement from Red Sox President Sam Kennedy the morning after they heard the complaints from Jones:
Red Sox statement regarding Adam Jones incident at Fenway Park
May 2nd, 2017
BOSTON, MA – The following is a statement from Red Sox President Sam Kennedy regarding last night’s incident at Fenway Park involving Adam Jones.
“The Red Sox want to publicly apologize to Adam Jones and the entire Orioles organization for what occurred at Fenway Park Monday night. No player should have an object thrown at him on the playing field, nor be subjected to any kind of racism at Fenway Park. The Red Sox have zero tolerance for such inexcusable behavior, and our entire organization and our fans are sickened by the conduct of an ignorant few. Such conduct should be reported immediately 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. Our review of last night’s events is ongoing.”
Here’s what’s right about this statement:
- It comes directly from a high level of management: the team’s president.
- It acknowledges the truth of Adam Jones’ accusations, rather than denying them.
- It apologizes directly to Jones and the Orioles, the injured parties.
- It confirms a policy of punishing fans who behave badly.
It’s not perfect. It’s full of passive voice (“be subjected to any kind of racism,” “should be reported”) and it’s vague about the incident. I’d prefer something even more direct, like this:
Red Sox apologize to Adam Jones for racist fan conduct
Red Sox President Sam Kennedy made the following statement.
“A fan threw peanuts and shouted racist comments to Orioles center fielder Adam Jones Monday night. On behalf of the Red Sox, I publicly apologize to Adam Jones and the entire Orioles organization. Our organization does not tolerate such inexcusable behavior, and we are sickened by the conduct of fans who behave like this. Anyone who comes to Fenway Park should report such conduct immediately to Red Sox security; you can report it anonymously by texting 23215 and using the keyword “security.” We will eject any spectator behaving in this manner and may prosecute them. We are also following up with new policies that will help prevent such behavior in the future.
The Red Sox followed up impressively on the next day
The quickly issued statement was great, but what was more impressive was what followed:
- Red Sox owner John Henry, typically a quiet and introverted man, visited with Jones and the Orioles and made an apology in person. Sam Kennedy also spent time with Jones.
- Team management met with the Red Sox players to get more information on the problem. Red Sox African-American outfielders and pitchers (who sit in the bullpen, near the outfield) reported that they too had heard racial slurs shouted at them.
- Sam Kennedy further clarified the team’s position on NESN, the team’s TV network, and WEEI, a local sports talk radio outlet.
- The Red Sox said they would increase security presence in the stands, including some undercover police, to identify and eject fans behaving in a racist way.
When an incident like this occurs, an organization needs to communicate its position proactively and take action to solve things. That’s exactly what the Red Sox did. While it would have been easy to say “Hey, racism happens, we can’t fix that,” they instead took responsibility for actually helping to solve the problem.
MLB and the entire Boston community reinforced how they will not tolerate racism
In the wake of this incident, we saw supporting statements from:
Those of us who live in Boston know how passionate and knowledgeable the Red Sox fan base is. So it gratified me to see that when Adam Jones came up to bat in yesterday’s game, the Fenway Park crowd rose to its feet and offered him an extended cheer — an unusual tribute for an opposing player on a team that’s currently in a tense confrontation with the Red Sox. Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale walked off the side of the mound until Jones tipped his cap and the cheers subsided.
I’d like to think that’s who Boston really is. We know there are racists here. But we’re not going to put up with them, because we’re better than that.