On Monday night, after the Orioles' taut, fun 5-2 win over the Red Sox at Fenway Park in what is becoming such a fierce rivalry that neither team seems to have noticed the Yankees are close to passing them both, Adam Jones revealed that during the game, one fan threw peanuts at him and several fans rained racist taunts at him from the Fenway Park bleachers.
"I was called the N-word a handful of times tonight. Thanks. Pretty awesome," Jones said, according to USA Today Sports. Jones, one of the more socially active players in Major League Baseball (though a lot of times his "controversial" statements are simple common-sense facts that people dramatically misinterpret and overreact to), said he has dealt with such issues before during games, and he has been public about it then as well.
I want to thank whatever slapdick threw that banana towards my direction in CF in the last inning. Way to show ur class u jackass.- 10 (@SimplyAJ10) August 11, 2013
But Jones said it was rarely as bad as it was Monday night. "It's different," he said. "Very unfortunate. I heard there was 59 or 60 ejections tonight in the ballpark. … I just go out and play baseball. It's unfortunate that people need to resort to those type of epithets to degrade another human being. I'm trying to make a living for myself and for my family."
It is one of those terrible stories that makes you shake your head at your breakfast table and wonder what the world is coming to. Except it's not coming to anything, because it has always been like this, and frankly, when your parents and grandparents were watching baseball it surely was worse.
So what do we do, other than shake our head? What do we do?
There is an instant knee-jerk reaction when we hear about what Jones went through Monday night to instantly blame it on a team's entire fan base. This is an oversimplification, but it is also a learned, conditioned one: There isn't a single other thing in sports that we don't filter through the prism of fandom and us vs. them, so real-world ugliness shouldn't be any different. Searching through the reactions Tuesday morning, much of it has revolved around Those Boston Fans. Certainly Boston has more than its fair share of history in regard to racial issues, and the Red Sox are not independent of that.
But the idea that this is isolated, that this is a Red Sox Issue, is turning a social issue into a baseball one. It turns it into their problem rather than our problem. During the 2014 National League Division Series at Busch Stadium, a group of Cardinals fans hurled epithets at Black Lives Matter protestors outside the game, which did the same thing: Those St. Louis Fans. But we are kidding ourselves -- and ignoring the real problem -- when we try to claim it is concentrated solely in any one place, even Boston. You are lying to yourself if you do not believe this does not happen everywhere.
Yes, there is an issue with baseball's demographics that is impossible to ignore. Jones is one of just 63 African-Americans on MLB rosters and he has been one of baseball's most exciting, consistent, likable players for more than a decade. Remember, he made one of the most thrilling, most American, dammit catches you will ever see in the World Baseball Classic.
This is someone you build your sport around. This is a foundational MLB player. And this incident is another reason for the league to continue doubling down on its African-American outreach efforts.
But what happened at Fenway on Monday night certainly doesn't happen just in baseball. It happens so often in soccer that FIFA has a Behind Closed Doors policy in which some games are played in front of empty stadiums because fans have been banned from attending because of racist taunts. (On Sunday, Sulley Muntari of the Italian soccer club Pescara actually got a yellow card for calling attention to racial epithets he heard from fans.) NBA players, because of the fans' proximity to the court, have spoken for years about what they hear from the stands. The NFL's racial problems are more structural and societal than one-on-one, though that's mostly because fans are farther away from the players, most of whom are wearing helmets anyway, than in any other sport. And hockey deals with this so often that the St. Louis Blues' official Twitter account had to deal with racist taunts of Nashville's P.K. Subban just the other day.
So what can you do? The Red Sox issued a statement Tuesday morning, saying they and their fans were "sickened by the conduct of an ignorant few." MLB released a similar statement as well. This is a start, and a step up from what, say, the Cardinals did in the wake of their issue in the 2014 NLDS. (They eventually put out a much more tepid statement than the Sox's, days later.) And teams can, and should, do a better job of policing their stands, for any issue, not just this one.
But you know what? It's on us, too. We have all sat next to someone at a game who has had too much to drink, or is too obnoxious too early, or just looks like he's going to be a problem. (It's usually a "he," too.) We tolerate them, or we hope they go away, or we move to another section. But we don't do anything, or at least not enough. There were people sitting next to those men who were screaming at Adam Jones Monday night. There were fans, just like you and I, who heard the same things that Jones heard. And had Jones not said something -- had he not opened himself up for more abuse, as he has shown himself willing to do in the past -- we would have not known about it. It appeared as though no one reported it. No one tried to stop it. They all just accepted it, even if they were disgusted by it, as an unfortunate part of the bleacher experience, the sort of thing that you just have to deal with when you're crammed in with 40,000 people. Only Jones told us about it. Only he stepped up.
Major League Baseball has a long way to go to work on this issue, but its reaction to incidents like this have become swifter and more definitive than they were even three years ago.
But we have to do our part, too. We can't accept what happened to Jones as a regular thing, a bummer byproduct of going to games that we just have to learn to live with. The culture of baseball is not solely set by Major League Baseball; it is set just as much by us, the fans, the people who cheer and boo and scream and wail. If we see something, we have to say something. You want to get awfulness like Monday's out of baseball or all sports? Take your own stand the way that Adam Jones did. Let it be known what you see happening. And get rid of it. As with everything: We are all in this together.