Bos­ton’s new day:

Sup­port­ing Yawkey Way re­name lat­est step by team co-owner Henry

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - NEWS - Bob Night­en­gale Colum­nist USA TO­DAY

The Red Sox take a pos­i­tive step against their check­ered past by re­nam­ing Yawkey Way.

This won’t change Bos­ton’s rep­u­ta­tion as one of base­ball’s most racist cities, re­in­forced a year ago by the ugly in­ci­dent in­volv­ing Ori­oles cen­ter fielder Adam Jones.

It won’t erase the Red Sox’s haunt­ing his­tory of be­ing the last base­ball fran­chise to in­te­grate.

Yet led by co-owner John Henry, the Red Sox en­sured that they no longer will honor or celebrate their racist past.

For­mer team owner Tom Yawkey’s name will be for­ever erased on the streets out­side Fen­way Park.

The Bos­ton Pub­lic Im­prove­ment Com­mis­sion made his­tory April 25 by strip­ping Yawkey’s name off the two-block stretch around Fen­way Park, re­turn­ing to its orig­i­nal moniker: Jersey Street.

This doesn’t mean that any­one will for­get how the Red Sox snubbed Jackie Robin­son and Wil­lie Mays, re­fus­ing to in­te­grate its team un­til 1959 — 12 years af­ter Robin­son’s ar­rival with the Brook­lyn Dodgers.

It shouldn’t dull any­one’s mem­ory ei­ther that the Red Sox had 45 man­agers in his­tory, the same num­ber as U.S. pres­i­dents, but have never em­ployed an African-Amer­i­can man­ager or GM.

This is the first sea­son they’ve even had a mi­nor­ity man­ager, Alex Cora, a Puerto Ri­can.

Yet af­ter last year’s in­ci­dent when a fan threw a bag of peanuts to­ward Jones — one of 68 African Amer­i­cans on open­ing­day ros­ters this sea­son — and be­rated him with racial slurs from the stands, the Red Sox took ac­tion that re­ver­ber­ated through­out base­ball. They fi­nally were sick­ened by their ugly his­tory of big­otry, with Yan­kees pitcher CC Sa­bathia say­ing, “I’ve never been called the N-word, ex­cept in Bos­ton. We all know. When you go to Bos­ton, ex­pect it.”

Henry, who came to the Ori­oles club­house the fol­low­ing day with Red Sox Pres­i­dent Sam Kennedy and apol­o­gized to Jones, re­al­izes that he can’t change the views of an en­tire cit­i­zenry. Racism will never com­pletely go away. Yet he can con­trol how Red Sox his­tory is cel­e­brated and hon­ored.

He im­me­di­ately sought to rid the Red Sox of Yawkey’s legacy; the man who owned the Red Sox from 1933 to 1976 was called base­ball’s big­gest bigot by Robin­son.

“When we ar­rived in 2002, one of the most im­por­tant things we did was ac­knowl­edge the shame­ful past of the Bos­ton Red Sox,” Kennedy said in the af­ter­math of the Jones’ in­ci­dent. “They ac­knowl­edged this is the last team to in­te­grate and there’s a rep­u­ta­tion of not be­ing the most friendly and hos­pitable en­vi­ron­ment. We’ve worked re­ally hard to change that.”

Now, in one swift de­ci­sion, the Red Sox are break­ing the cel­e­bra­tory link be­tween Yawkey and all of his prob­lem­atic be­liefs.

“The un­de­ni­able and re­gret­table his­tory of the Red Sox with re­gards to race and in­te­gra­tion dur­ing the Yawkey ste­ward­ship,” Red Sox at­tor­ney David Fried­man said at a hear­ing in Fe­bru­ary, “make it dif­fi­cult to give promi­nence to a sym­bol as­so­ci­ated with an era marred by racial dis­crim­i­na­tion and in­equal­ity.”

The Yawkey Foun­da­tion, which has do­nated $300 mil- lion to area or­ga­ni­za­tions, is fu­ri­ous by the de­ci­sion. The foun­da­tion ar­gues that its pa­tri­arch wasn’t a racist. Its of­fi­cials deny the re­ports that Yawkey screamed a racial slur from the grand­stands at a Red Sox work­out with Robin­son and two African Amer­i­cans.

“Tom Yawkey de­served to have his name live on at Fen­way Park,” the Yawkey Foun­da­tion said in a state­ment. “We can’t change to­day’s de­ci­sion, but we re­main hope­ful that he will be re­mem­bered as the good and de­cent man he truly was.”

His sup­port­ers say Yawkey hardly was a pi­o­neer for racial equal­ity but that he wasn’t David Duke, ei­ther. Still, it was clear that Yawkey en­abled racism sim­ply by not hav­ing a black player un­til the ar­rival of Pump­sie Green in 1959.

The Red Sox can’t ex­punge that fact from their his­tory, but if noth­ing else, Yawkey’s legacy won’t be a con­stant re­minder every time their fans walk through the turn­stiles.

It was as if Yawkey Way was the Red Sox’s ver­sion of a confederate statue.

Now, the name is gone, and surely the plaque hon­or­ing Yawkey on the side of Fen­way Park will be re­moved, too.

“Restor­ing the Jersey Street name is in­tended to re­in­force that Fen­way Park is in­clu­sive and wel­com­ing to all,” the Red Sox said in a state­ment.

Maybe one day the Red Sox will come up with a dif­fer­ent name in­stead of Jersey Street too. The name honors the Bri­tish Isle of Jersey where the lo­cal aris­toc­racy bought and sold slaves.

If they want to truly celebrate the man re­spon­si­ble for change, maybe they should call it Adam Jones Way. Jones, af­ter all, is the one who had the courage to stand up for his be­liefs and pub­licly shame the Red Sox.

It’ll be fas­ci­nat­ing to see if this prompts other or­ga­ni­za­tions to re­act, ex­am­in­ing their own trou­bled his­tory. We have stat­ues, plaques, street names and awards hon­or­ing racists through­out base­ball. Maybe now or­ga­ni­za­tions will feel com­fort­able enough to strip those honors.

Per­haps even the Base­ball Writ­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica can act and change the name of its high­est award. The BBWAA an­nu­ally presents the J.G. Tay­lor Spink award to one of its mem­bers for mer­i­to­ri­ous con­tri­bu­tions to base­ball writ­ing. The award is named af­ter the long­time pub­lisher of the Sport­ing News.

Yes, the same man who wrote an ed­i­to­rial in 1942 in­sist­ing there was no rea­son for base­ball to in­te­grate, say­ing the game was better off hav­ing black play­ers stay in the Ne­gro Leagues.

Now, here are the Red Sox, chang­ing the name of a street be­cause of its racial con­no­ta­tion, a month af­ter the In­di­ans stopped us­ing their Chief Wa­hoo logo.

Per­haps this is the start of a trend, and af­ter decades of dis­grace­ful be­hav­ior, we can thank the Red Sox for be­ing at the fore­front of a move­ment, and end hon­or­ing those who ac­cepted, or even em­bold­ened base­ball’s ugly racial his­tory.

Shame has turned into op­por­tu­nity.


In June 2017, Red Sox le­gend David Or­tiz had a por­tion of Yawkey Way named af­ter him.

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