Here are some of my thoughts about the incident at Fenway Park last night in which Orioles center fielder Adam Jones had a bag of peanuts — and racial slurs — hurled at him.
1. Why do people act this way?
OK, I know I sit in my ivory press box tower and not among the peasants who pay hard-earned money to watch these games. And I know with that money comes an investment – even a personal identification – with the team you support.
But it is a game, people. And it’s a game played by actual human beings, made of flesh and blood and all. If you wouldn’t say it or do it at your workplace, you shouldn’t say it or do it at an athlete’s workplace. (Really, the same should be said for when you are sitting behind a computer. There’s no value in being a jackwagon on Twitter or Facebook or any other social media outlet.)
Now, I’m sure some will use the ultimate cop out: People do stupid things when they are drunk. And, really, that’s a terrible excuse.
I’m gonna make a public admission here. Back when I was in college, I once spent a couple innings, in an inebriated state, screaming at Chicago White Sox right fielder Ivan Calderon one evening at Memorial Stadium.
What was Calderon’s offense? He was in another uniform playing in right field directly below us in the cheap seats. It was a boring game, no one was in our section, and we had been drinking. It’s the most shameful moment in my life as a fan, years before I became a sportswriter.
And you know what? Even in those minutes of complete stupidity, I didn’t resort to anything but hammering the guy for misplaying a fly ball. Throwing something at him — using words with true barbs — was never in my mindset, even though my judgment was clearly polluted at the time.
My point is, it’s all boorish behavior. It should never be condoned or tolerated. But there is also a line that absolutely, positively should never be crossed. That goes beyond, “Well, people do dumb things when they’re drunk.”
2. It must have been something for Jones to react, because he deals with this kind of crap all the time – and not just in Boston.
I’ve known Jones for a long time. We’ve talked a lot about social issues well beyond the baseball field. He has very strong opinions – formed by his own experiences and intellectual pursuits – and most of those opinions he keeps to himself. Or at least doesn’t share publicly, because he knows they aren’t popular in mainstream America, and he doesn’t need the hassle. Whenever he does speak his mind on social issues, he gets the, “Shut up and play baseball” line from many.
So, know this: Jones has had racial epithets thrown his way in plenty of cities in this country. He’s also heard the generic, “You suck,” more times than an accountant could calculate. Boston has been a trouble spot, but it’s far from the only one.
He’s had a banana thrown at him in San Francisco – the fan who did it later apologized vehemently and said it wasn’t racially charged or intended for Jones, but instead was frustration over the Giants’ play – and he is often the center of abuse in Toronto.
In last year’s Wild Card game at Rogers Centre, Orioles left fielder Hyun Soo Kim had to dodge a full beer can thrown at him and Jones engaged in a war of words with the people in the perpetrator’s section – a group that had been heckling Jones and Kim for much of the game.
So, for Jones to speak out the way he did Monday to USA Today reporter Bob Nightengale, you know this wasn’t just an isolated incident.
“A disrespectful fan threw a bag of peanuts at me,’’ Jones told Nightengale. “I was called the N-word a handful of times tonight. Thanks. Pretty awesome.’’
It really got to Jones, meaning it really must have been nasty and constant. Because the guy has heard it all – everywhere. Let’s not just point fingers at Boston fans, however. Orioles’ fans aren’t all angels either. This is a situation that can occur anywhere in the league.
3. Give the Red Sox credit for issuing a public statement within hours.
The Red Sox were really quick in denouncing the incident and stressing that the whole situation is being investigated. They issued this statement Tuesday morning, well before tonight’s game.
“The Red Sox want to publicly apologize to Adam Jones and the entire Orioles organization for what occurred at Fenway Park Monday night. No player should have an object thrown at him on the playing field, nor be subjected to any kind of racism at Fenway Park. The Red Sox have zero tolerance for such inexcusable behavior, and our entire organization and our fans are sickened by the conduct of an ignorant few. Such conduct should be reported immediately to Red Sox security, and any spectator behaving in this manner forfeits his/her right to remain in the ballpark, and may be subject to further action. Our review of last night’s events is ongoing.”
Boston’s mayor, the governor of Massachusetts and the commissioner’s office also condemned the behavior. And though it’s just words, publicly shaming isn’t a bad thing. Nor is such an immediate reaction. Or public discussion about the situation.
But there’s got to be more done here, because, again, these aren’t isolated incidents.
4. What can be done?
Jones has an idea. This is what he told USA Today: “What they need to do is that instead of kicking them out of the stadium, they need to fine them 10 grand, 20 grand, 30 grand. Something that really hurts somebody. Make them pay in full. And if they don’t, take it out of their check. That’s how you hurt somebody. You suspend them from the stadium, what does that mean? It’s a slap on the wrist. That guy needs to be confronted, and he needs to pay for what he’s done.”
In every statement about this, the official organization has said this behavior won’t be tolerated, that ejection is standard and that the perpetrator “may be subjected to further action.”
Jones is right. The “may be” needs to be removed. Fine those involved in every instance. And charge them with a crime for throwing anything onto the playing field, because those acts could endanger someone.
Ejection isn’t good enough. Not anymore. Hasn’t been for a while.
Luckily, my yelling at Calderon 30 years ago was an isolated incident in my life, and fairly benign. I never did anything like that again, and I’m still thoroughly embarrassed by it, even though it wasn’t particularly raunchy or hateful.
Some people, though, won’t learn life’s lessons until they are shamed by more than their own embarrassment. Shaming their wallet and public record sure would help.