Is it worthy of national attention when one idiot in a crowd of 35,000 — one social misfit corroded by hatred and bereft of the least civility — shouts the N-word down at the opposing team’s outfielder?
Yes. Oh, hell yes.
It merits all of the outrage and condemnation and discourse that results.
An e-mailer wrote to me, “Much ado about nothing!! Much ado about an isolated incident!!”
Wrong, wrong. It isn’t nothing; it’s an affront. In this case it wasn’t just one fan. And it isn’t an isolated incident, as we have been reminded in the days since Orioles outfielder Adam Jones was subject to that racial epithet Monday night at Fenway Park.
Good for Jones for speaking out. All athletes should.
“It was frustrating to me,” he said. “I’m a grown man with a family to raise, so I’m not just going to let nobody sit there and berate me.”
Bizarre though it is, heckling the opponent is somehow interwoven into American sports, a sad tradition we accept. But there is a pretty clear line. When it gets personal and becomes about family or when the jeers become racial or ethnic slurs, it is intolerable.
There are only 62 African-American ballplayers in the major leagues, and many have been on the receiving end of what led Jones to speak out. But most keep quiet.
The Marlins’ Dee Gordon and Giancarlo Stanton said they have heard racial slurs but not made a public issue of it.
Gordon told the Miami Herald he opts to “brush it off,” adding, “I’ve never complained. I just try to put it in perspective. Us hearing it now is what our ancestors had to go through. Only they went through it way worse.”
America should not be all that proud of itself if the measure of progress is that, in 2017, a black baseball player only hears the N-word occasionally. We have work yet to do.
The official reaction has been necessary, but also perfunctory. From MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, from the Red Sox organization and beyond have come statements how unacceptable this is.
That’s fine. And dialogue is good. But the condemnation from official channels is largely powerless. We had eight years of a black president who by word, deed and example promoted racial equality and harmony. Alas, we have not seen a change of any size. In many ways it seems our country’s racial divide is rending, only getting worse.
Solution starts not at the top but grows from the grass-roots level. With us. In the bleachers. That is why it was so encouraging that Boston fans gave Adam Jones a standing ovation in his first at-bat at Fenway following his speaking about about that racial slur.
Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale stepped off the mound to give the ovation time. In the outfield, Boston’s Mookie Betts was among those applauding.
Boston is a city where Yankees pitcher C.C. Sabathia said black players can “expect” racial taunts. If that is an unfair reputation, it is up to Bostonians to end it. In this case it is up to Red Sox fans at the game, seeing and hearing the garbage directed at Jones.
I would put this to any sports fans at any game:
What would you do if, in your section, a drunk fan was making loud and lewd comments to women seated in front of him?
What would you do if some immature, smirking moron was making fun of a fan in a wheelchair?
What would you do if, a few seats down, an idiot was shouting the N-word and throwing a bag of peanuts at Adam Jones?
How do you act — do you act at all? — when you see or hear plainly wrong behavior around you? Do you shrink in your seat because it’s none of your business?
America, police thyself. Fans, either tolerate what’s intolerable … or choose not to.
“Not cool, man.” “Stop that.” “Whoa, enough!”
Call stadium security about such incidents but before that the miscreant must be singled out, isolated and rebuked. That is what Boston fans, in their way, tried to do collectively with that standing ovation for Jones the following night. They were distancing themselves from the incident that shamed Boston — team and town. It was a start.
Spasms of racism and other hatred and idiocy will arise like pimples, anywhere.
It is up to the vast majority on the right side to be heard. In this case it is up to sports fans to stand up and say, “Not in my stadium. Not in my city.”