By Evan Simko-Bednarski, Sarah Jorgensen and Ellie Kaufman, CNN
BOSTON — Red Sox owner John Henry wants to rename Yawkey Way, the iconic street bordering Fenway Park, telling the Boston Herald “he’s still ‘haunted’ by the racist legacy of his legendary predecessor.”
The late Tom Yawkey, who owned the Red Sox from 1933 to 1976, was the last owner in the majors to integrate his team, which since then has featured many notable African-American and Dominican players, including David Ortiz, Pedro Martinez and Jim Rice.
Recently, three high-profile incidents of apparent racism at Fenway — two targeting black baseball players — also have revived concerns about the organization’s reputation.
Henry made remarks to the Herald amid sharp racial and political tensions in recent months, with anxieties heightened by the deadly violence spawned by the white nationalist rally last week in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Henry discussed renaming the public street with the previous mayoral administration in Boston, but they “did not want to open what they saw as a can of worms,” he told the Herald.
“But for me, personally, the street name has always been a consistent reminder that it is our job to ensure the Red Sox are not just multi-cultural, but stand for as many of the right things in our community as we can — particularly in our African-American community and in the Dominican community that has embraced us so fully,” Henry told the Herald.
“The Red Sox Foundation and other organizations the Sox created, such as Home Base, have accomplished a lot over the last 15 years, but I am still haunted by what went on here a long time before we arrived,” he added.
The Herald pointed out that the Red Sox passed on opportunities to sign two of baseball’s African-American pioneers — Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays — before Pumpsie Green joined the team in 1959.
Last year, pitcher David Price reported hearing racial taunts at Fenway Park. In a well-publicized incident this season, Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones reported hearing a racial slur and someone hurling a bag of peanuts at him. After that incident, New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia reported having endured similar treatment in Boston.
Also this year, Red Sox fan Calvin Hennick said he was sitting at Fenway Park with his biracial son and Haitian father-in-law when a man sitting next to him used a racial slur to describe the Kenyan woman who had just sung the national anthem.
Yawkeys were patrons of ‘extraordinary generosity’
A spokesman for the Yawkey Foundation, which was set up by Tom and Jean Yawkey, said they were “disheartened by any effort to embroil the Yawkeys in today’s political controversy.”
“Jean and Tom Yawkey’s philanthropy has always been colorblind,” foundation spokesman Griff McNerney told CNN.
“Their extraordinary generosity has made a significant impact on Massachusetts and the greater Boston community, contributing more than $450 million to hundreds of nonprofit organizations and helping improve the lives of thousands of disadvantaged children of all backgrounds,” he said in a statement. “We are honored to have the Yawkey name on so many organizations and institutions that benefit Bostonians of all races.”
Red Sox President Sam Kennedy said he wants to make sure Fenway is open and inclusive to everyone.
“I just think that if there’s anyone in the community that feels uncomfortable because of the symbol or a reminder of the past, it’s incumbent on us to at least examine the issue, and that’s what we’re going to do,” Kennedy said Thursday, according to CNN affiliate WBZ.
A rally touting free speech took place Saturday in Boston Common. Organizers for the rally invited “libertarians, conservatives, traditionalists, classic liberals, (Donald) Trump supporters or anyone else who enjoys their right to free speech,” according to the Boston Free Speech Coalition.
Counterprotesters also gathered Saturday, mostly organized by a coalition of left-leaning groups and activists, such as the Black Lives Matter movement.
After the city granted a rally permit earlier this week, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh issued this statement: “Make no mistake: we do not welcome any hate groups to Boston and we reject their message.”
The Red Sox host the Yankees this weekend, with night games on Friday and Saturday and an afternoon game on Sunday.
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