Several ugly racial incidents at Fenway Park this past baseball season marred what was an otherwise enjoyable on-field performance by the Boston Red Sox. In May, Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones said that racial slurs were aimed his way during a game at Fenway. At another game, a fan reported that someone in his row had made a revolting racist comment regarding that evening’s National Anthem singer.
For many local sports fans, the incidents were despicable, shocking, infuriating, and, to be honest, a humiliating reminder of Boston’s disturbing history regarding racism.
That point was hit home by Red Sox owner John Henry, who said, “We, like many Americans, made the mistake of thinking that our region’s and country’s less-than-stellar pasts were firmly behind us, that 21st century America was becoming a more inclusive nation committed to celebrating diversity. That is not the case.”
Joined by the Celtics, Bruins, N.E. Patriots, and N.E. Revolution, the Red Sox responded with a new policy and program unveiled in September, called “Take The Lead.” The initiative aims squarely at eliminating racism and hate speech at all local professional stadiums.
“The “Take The Lead” launch featured a candid panel discussion on race – led by Reverend Liz Walker of the Roxbury Presbyterian Church – with alumni and executives from each sports team. The program also included an impassioned video in which local professional athletes implored fans to reject – and report – racist behaviors or comments at sports events.
One of the video spokespeople, Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts said, “It starts here in our house. If you hear something wrong, offensive or hateful, speak up, say something, stand for our teams, but don’t stand for racism.”
MORE Advertising founder and CEO, Donna Latson Gittens, was a member of the Red Sox committee that conceived and implemented the program. “The City of Boston has always struggled with the stigma of being a community that’s not warm or welcoming to people of color,” she said. “This was an overdue, yet positive, step to address racism and hate speech head-on. Take the Lead, however, is not a one-time event; more groundbreaking activities are in the planning stages to be unveiled in the New Year. We all need to be constantly vigilant and strong in beating back this scourge, whether it’s at the park, in our communities, at work, or anywhere.”