Arena: For Sox Fans, Racism Isn't Anything New

Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball in 1947, but 70 years later, racism remains a problem in the MLB. A problem that is causing many African-Americans to abandon the sport.

The issue was made blatantly apparent this past week when Boston Red Sox fans shouted racial slurs at the Baltimore Orioles’ African-American center fielder, Adam Jones. After the Orioles' 5-2 win on Monday, Jones told reporters that he was “called the n-word a handful of times,” and that a group of fans threw peanuts at him.

All in all, 34 fans were ejected from Fenway Park on Monday – an inexcusable number from a fan base with a history of intolerance. The Red Sox were the last team in the MLB to integrate, when Pumpsie Green debuted in 1959.

One would expect that in a relatively progressive city like Boston, constant racial epithets and taunts would have fallen by the wayside years ago. However, after Jones stepped forward and told reporters of this incident, the city of Boston’s racist past crept back into the public eye.

New York Yankees pitcher C.C. Sabathia told reporters he has, “never been called the N-word anywhere but Boston.” He went on to discuss how there are only 62 African-American players currently in the MLB, and said each and every one of them expects to battle racism when they step onto the grass at Fenway Park. Red Sox outfielder Chris Young agreed with Sabathia, saying “It’s happened to probably the majority of black players in our league.”

This indictment of Red Sox fans is especially damning considering three of the aforementioned 62 African-American MLB players – David Price, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts – call Fenway Park their home. Jones told reporters he felt especially sorry for those players, saying “I come here 9 of 10 times a year. They play at this place 81 times a year. They are the ones who have to endure this kind of thing and understand the kind of behavior that is around them.”

This is not the first time Jones has openly spoken about racism in the MLB. While Colin Kaepernick was making headlines last season for his protests during the National Anthem, Jones openly questioned why no black MLB players joined in to protest, as they had across the NFL, NBA and MLS. Jones suggested that black players felt unable to emulate Kaepernick’s protests because baseball “is a white man’s sport.” This was a startling, yet eye-opening statement.

In 2017, only 62 of 862 players in the MLB identify as African-American. That is only 7.2 percent. These numbers are especially jarring when you take into account that in 1986, the MLB was composed of 18.3 percent African-Americans, according to the Society For American Baseball Research. That is a drop of over 11 percent in the last 30 years.

So what has happened to diversity on the field in that time? One suggestion is that baseball has evolved to become too financially demanding for lower-income families. Many low-income families simply cannot afford the expense of travel baseball, which typically costs over $1,000, nor do they have the time to shuttle their children to and from tournaments every weekend. Travel-ball teams are typically a collection of the area’s best talent, which allows scouts to get all their job done in one place, rather than go to multiple schools to see multiple players – another potential reason for the lack of black players.

Another suggestion is that sports like basketball and football are simply overtaking baseball’s popularity, grabbing African-American youth at a young age. Both the NFL and NBA do a much better job marketing their superstars than the MLB, especially towards the black community. Kids in the black community typically grow up idolizing LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Cam Newton and other similar stars. Stars that have a similar backstory or role in society that they can identify with. Basketball and football are also often cheaper options for low-income families.

To play basketball as a kid, all you need is a ball and a hoop, which can be found at nearly any neighborhood park. Likewise, to play football, all you need is a ball and some friends. To play baseball however, everyone must have a glove, bat, ball and baseball field.

Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball has aimed to start something similar to travel-baseball, at a fraction of the cost. There is no nationwide travel organizations in football, which has made scouts have to resort to the old-school way of recruiting in the inner-city. Student-athletes can also receive full college scholarships in football and basketball, while baseball scholarships typically only provide between 50 and 70 percent of tuition.

But is money the issue? Maybe African-American players feel a racial stigma around baseball, and choose to go in another direction rather than be discriminated against. Why suffer through racial taunts of loud, drunk fans when you can go play a different sport and be embraced?

The Red Sox organization apologized and fans gave Jones a standing ovation when he came up to bat in Tuesday’s game, but that was by no means a sufficient apology for all that has been said over the years.

Baseball is losing popularity, especially with the black community. Instances like the one at Fenway on Monday are shocking to many fans around the country, but for African-American MLB players, they are all too common.