Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Adam Jones Incident

This article first appeared in Eagle Rising.

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As a fervent baseball fan (Chicago Cubs), I cannot let the Adam Jones incident go without comment. Jones is an outfielder with the Baltimore Orioles, and a very good player. On Monday, while playing at Boston's Fenway Park, he was taunted by a group of fans in the bleachers. Someone threw a bag of peanuts at him and Jones heard someone hurl the n-word at him more than once as well. (Jones is black.)

My God- are we back to 1947? That was when Jackie Robinson broke in with the Brooklyn Dodgers as baseball's first black major leaguer. Robinson was subjected to rejection by some of his teammates, and took a ton of abuse from fans around the league as well as bench jockeys from other teams. Today, Robinson is revered not just because he was a great player, but more for his courage.

Seventy years later, after we have seen Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Henry Aaron, Ernie Banks, names I could go on forever listing, Adam Jones gets called the n-word in Fenway Park in 2017?

Red Sox fans have always been known to be tough on visiting players. If kept clean, it is part of the game's tradition. Jones himself has acknowledged that. This is not clean. As far as I know, racial epithets were not part of the Fenway Park tradition over the many decades of its existence.

To their credit, the Red Sox have responded appropriately. Approximately 30 fans were ejected after the Jones incident. The team has apologized and team owners met with Jones today to apologize personally. When Jones came to the plate for the first time tonight, he was given a standing ovation. Obviously, the entire city of Boston, a city with a troubled racial history, is embarrassed. A few knuckleheads have made Red Sox nation look bad.

It is more coincidental than anything else, but the Red Sox were the last team to integrate when they brought up Pumpsie Green in the late 1950s. More to the point, baseball hardly needs this incident. Aside from the obvious wrong, it comes at a time when the sport is still struggling to attract young African-Americans back to the game. For years now, African-American youngsters have been choosing football and basketball over baseball. Right now, there are only 62 African-American players in the major leagues. That is unacceptably low. Most of the black players you see in MLB now are Latin American players from the Caribbean. The issue is not that teams are discriminating against African-American players. The business is winning, pure and simple. The problem, as stated, is that African-American kids are not being drawn to the game as before. Go to a ballpark and count how many black fans are there. Perhaps, economics is an issue since ticket and concession prices are so high. I firmly believe that if kids don't go to see the major leaguers play-and the minor leaguers as well- they probably won't spend much time playing the sport. When I was young and playing semi-pro  and college baseball, I was playing with and against black ballplayers hoping just like me to make it into pro ball. (I failed.) For a year or so, I even played on a semi-pro team in which I was one of two white players. We had been invited to join the team and there was no problem. We were teammates in every sense of the word. One of them, who was older, had played pro ball at Reno, and he told me a bit about the discrimination he faced. It all was a great life's lesson for me.

But I digress.

The Jones incident reminds us that even though we may disagree with certain issues like Black Lives Matter, police shootings, and what constitutes actual racism, that some anti-black racism is still out there. The Jones incident is not a liberal-conservative issue. Nobody should be subjected to that.

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