Talkin’ Yawkey and the Race to Erase Racism

There’s a conservative joke that goes as follows.  What do you have when you have two liberals talking about sports?  Two too many liberals.

Okay, so there’s no such joke but there probably should be.

As you all know, SportsChump is a site of the people.  I routinely ask readers to contribute not only in the comments section but in the posts as well.  Many of you have, many more of you will.

Eight years ago, I established this site for us to speak constructively about the pressing issues of the day, some trivial, some far more important.  If nothing else, I’d like to think of this site as thought-provoking.

So, when oddball, inexplicable acts come to light, I turn to my experts to elaborate on such matters.

Right now, this country is going race crazy.  We have violent incidents with conservative protests in Virginia that ended up with the death of one innocent person, we have cities around the nation looking to take down statues of civil war military figures that remind us of another time and now we have current Red Sox owner, John Henry, thinking they should rename the area right outside Fenway Park, Yawkey Way, because it was named after a former owner, Tom Yawkey, accused of being racist.

Just like so many other cities in America, Boston struggles with a history of racism.  Even though the Celtics were the first team to draft a black player and appoint a black head coach, the Red Sox are famous for becoming the last Major League Baseball team to integrate.  (Maybe that’s why it took ‘em so long to win a World Series).

When it comes to all things Red Sox, I turn to my good old Uncle Alex who has lived in New England for decades and has experienced the highs and lows of Red Sox Nation for as long as anyone else I know.

Uncle Alex, you’re up there and in tune with all things Fenway.  How did this whole Yawkey story come about and what’s been the reaction since it did?

Uncle Alex: My understanding is that John Henry had been “haunted” by the racist legacy of the Yawkeys, but didn’t really share his sentiment publicly until the events in Charlottesville and the subsequent reaction by the president.  Apparently, it is not his decision to make; the city controls street-naming.  However, he’s been trying to have this change take place for a while.  The problem with burying the Yawkey name is that more goes with it than racism.

Really, there are two extenuating reasons to consider keeping the street name:  First, the Yawkeys are known for their charitable giving, particularly around the Jimmy Fund, which they took over in 1953 and turned into a major cancer research charity.  There is a wing of Massachusetts General Hospital that also has their name for this reason.  Second, the name is almost synonymous with the Red Sox.  Some Sox fans would tell you that they think of the Yawkeys as lovable grandparents who kept the Olde Towne Team in Boston after the Braves abandoned the city.  To them, distancing the Red Sox from the Yawkeys would be sacrilege.

The problem is – as you stated – the Red Sox were the last team in MLB to bring on an African-American player, Pumpsie Green, in 1959.  Needless to say, he wasn’t Jackie Robinson; in fact, Smokey Robinson might have been a better player.  The Red Sox did try out Jackie Robinson in 1945, but it was all for show.   It’s a sad fact that the Boston BRUINS were integrated before the Red Sox (in 1958).

I think people are split about this: old-timers and parochial sorts want to keep it, while many others want it changed.  If you want my opinion, the Yawkeys should be recognized for their community support, but the street needs to be renamed.  They sent Al Campanis packing when he showed his true colors, why should we treat the Yawkeys differently because they hid theirs?

SC:  I guess I’m not entirely convinced or perhaps I’m still struggling for an answer.  I’d like to know what this all resolves.

It’s fantastic that America is coming of terms with its own history.  You mean everything I learned in high school history class wasn’t the actual truth?  The discerning eye already knew all this.

Despite his obvious shortcomings as a human being, I fail to see how renaming Yawkey Way erases one man’s irreparable mark (for better or for worse) on a community.  Punishing him forty years after his death does what exactly?

Has anyone yet asked the question “What does renaming Yawkey Way solve?”  We’re not tearing down the Berlin Wall here.  We’re just renaming a street that was formerly named after a privileged white guy who hated black people.  Last time I checked there are still a few (million) of those around.  Changing the street name to something more currently palatable isn’t going to make us forget the former owner of the Red Sox was racist.  It’ll just push it a little farther back in our minds.  I’m not exactly sure that’s addressing the issue.  There are streets named after racists all over this country.  Are we going to get rid of some and not others?  Furthermore, I’d comfortably wager that there are a few NFL owners out there that have dropped their fair share of N-bombs.  They just weren’t careless enough to get caught a la Donald Sterling.

Is renaming a street here or there going to erase centuries of wrongdoing?  Is it going to say to current privileged white people, see what happens when you discriminate?  We desecrate your legacy forty years after you’re dead?  Sucks to be you.  That’s hardly a penalty.  The biggest penalty is education.

To me, it just seems superficial.  What’s next?  Tearing down Washington Monument because our first president was a slave-owner?  Renaming Rupp Arena in Lexington because Adolph Rupp didn’t want black players?  I’d like to see them try that in Kentucky.

Renaming Yawkey Way doesn’t erase history.  I’m not too sure it teaches any lessons either.  So they rename the street to something far more historically sensitive?  Then what?  Tell me what it solves, what good it actually does, and I’ll be all for it.

Unc: No, it won’t erase history, but saying that you shouldn’t do it because it’s not done elsewhere doesn’t seem like a very strong argument to me.  To their credit, the current Red Sox ownership group has been very forthcoming about the team’s racist history – and also explicit in its outreach efforts to fans of all ethnicities.  There is still an undercurrent of racism in this city; just ask Adam Jones.  Celebrating the name of someone who is so closely associated with Boston’s racist history does not make Fenway more inviting for African-Americans.  I can tell you that as a Jew, I would never set foot in Mel Gibson Stadium or Louis Farakkhan Arena, which may be exactly how some people think about walking down Yawkey Way.

Having said that, I do agree that comparing Yawkey to Washington is interesting, as both have done great things in one context but demonstrated deplorable behavior in another.  The difference, I think, is that history has weighed Washington’s body of work and sided (for better or worse) on his merits rather than his deficiencies.  The final judgement on Yawkey is not nearly as clear-cut, and I think it would be completely reasonable to remove his name where the association is so blatantly racist – as it is with the Red Sox.  Keep in mind that the Yawkey name would live on where their money has done good, such as Dana-Farber and the Yawkey Foundation.

So, what would changing Yawkey Way’s name solve?  Mostly, it would make it a lot more comfortable for African-Americans to come to walk down a street that isn’t named after a guy who hated them.

SC: I suppose you’re right.  I do miss watching Braveheart reruns.  Damn good movie.

Again, I’m all for positive change that leads to a greater understanding and respect for our differences in this country.  We’re clearly at a crossroads, more so than probably any other time since our childhoods (for the record, people, Uncle Alex is a mere seven years older than me).

I guess I’d just like to make sure all these efforts to change names of streets, buildings, statues and legacies are done with the best intentions at heart to ensure progress is being made, so that we all understand why this is going on.

As we recently saw in Virginia, they’re going to meet with plenty of resistance so healthy, constructive dialogue, such as this, will have to be a part of any such change.  Otherwise it’s just painting over a bad canvas and rebuilding on what was already a flimsy foundation.

At least that’s my take, for what it’s worth.  Any final thoughts on the matter?

Unc: Well, I could go into a long treatise on the socioeconomic roots of white nationalism, its eerie similarity to certain other extremist movements worldwide, and how certain unnamed politicians are fanning its flame out of some pathological, narcissistic need for adulation, but I’d rather point out that the Sox just took two of three from the dreaded Yankees.

SC: And we always bring it back to what’s truly important.  Sir, love to the family and thanks as always for reading the site and sharing your opinions.  Until we meet again.

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26 Replies to “Talkin’ Yawkey and the Race to Erase Racism”

  1. Race is a tough nut to crack. I hate the uneducated ones (read that however you choose) that don’t treat all folks like human beings and also hate the entitlement attitude that a certain race has while they continue to do things that perpetuate the race war.

    I’ll live my life by my own moral code, not someone else’s idea of how I should act or behave. Treat me with respect and I’ll do the same to you.

    That being said, how come I should be ashamed of the white man’s heritage while the black panther movement and Lewis F get a free pass? Again, no-win situation no matter how hard we try to appease. I’ll pass on trying to convince those on both sides that they are fools.

  2. And Boston is leading AL East.. 5 games over the Yankees !
    I grinned through this post. Always find your talks with Uncle Alex interesting.

  3. Your uncle sounds like a wise man. To avoid disservice to your article (props for taking this on), I’ll simply say that this sort of dialogue may be the greatest benefit of such (from certain perspectives) trivial matters. We are discussing atrocities and hopefully seeking constructive responses. So that’s a good thing. I think the people have spoken – rich, powerful men had streets named after them in the past, despite their bigotry, but that will no longer be tolerated.

  4. Probably one of my more favorite posts. GREAT read. OK… Im admiringly bias & love both writers… but I also love the writing & the brain food. Nicely done SC & my little Bro. 🙂 SC, your Grandma (the die-hard Red Sox fan) would have been proud (although Im not sure how she’d stand on the street renaming). PJD & I really enjoyed this post. Much love & respect to you both.

  5. Chris

    Best crime caper movie (Heat) of the last two decades , bar none !!!! In terms of races as it relates to sports , just take a look at how each of the four major professional sports have chosen to deal with the issue since each came into existence. If that doesn’t tell you something , then what will ?

    seball lauds over the fact they were the first to integrate with the introduction of Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Bear in mind Robinson also served in the US military , which had still yet to be fully integrated (full integration of the US Armed Forces didn’t take place until 1953).

    If interested ?

  6. IMO there are two races we should concern ourselves with;

    The Decent and The Indecent.

  7. First, and foremost, gotta give props to the Heat movie fan. Definitely a GREAT movie and one of my favorites of all time. Diner scene was monster.

    Secondly, I had never heard of this Yawkey guy until this post. Hadn’t really kept close tabs on Sox chatter since Mookie began his permanent residency in Buckner’s nightly REM intervals “reminisces happily”. Ok, I have kept up with the Sox but can never miss an opportunity to bring that up since we’ve (Mets) basically sucked since then. Still was not aware of this Yawkey character’s history.

    Thirdly, I appreciate reading the back and forth and your uncle’s pretty reasoned take on the matter. The events related to Charlottesville are disturbing to me on multiple levels and, although not all may agree, I believe that many conversations just like this are really the best method for, at minimum, understanding; not necessarily agreeing to or solving everything. You guys discussed several points during the back and forth and I think it is sometimes easy to conflate things. General race relations, confederate statutes, racist sports team owners, Jim Crow, Yawkey, white nationalism, Kaep’s controversy, etc.. are all related but oftentimes the reasoning, history or argument for/against each is a bit more nuanced than “It’s racist!”; hence the need for multiple conversations. For instance, when discussing bringing down confederate statues such as Lee (and BTW, ESPN needs to re-evaluate themselves on that announcer thing – that was just really stupid), some opine that it is our history and wonder whether the removal of statues will soon include Washington, Jefferson, etc… I’m pretty sure the prevailing reason, mine included, for wanting to bring down Lee’s statue is that this dude led a vicious and treasonous war against the United States of America for just one reason: keeping slavery. A lot of us kind of don’t like seeing that being revered. Pretty stark contrast to Washington despite the fact that he and quite a few of our founding fathers were slave owners. The reasons these statues were then erected and the role they played after the Civil War is just as horrible but we can save that for another time. Suffice it to say that there are many like myself that would never discuss removing a Washington statue vs. but would volunteer in a heartbeat to help bring down a Davis or Lee statue. Your uncle’s ‘steps in another’s shoes’ pretty much hit the target. He wouldn’t want to be hanging out in Hitler Park and probably would feel, at minimum, disrespected, if the USA was peppered with statues of Hitler or Mel Gibson or LF everywhere. That’s a bit of an insight into how a ton of African Americans feel about those confederate statues. Judging from what I’ve heard about recent Boston race relations history and from what I’ve read about Yawkey, it seems like the effort to rename Yawkey Way is probably the right thing to do and is probably another step towards unity, goodwill and all that… Little steps, man, little steps.

    I could also spend days talking about the current state of racial/political affairs, Star Trek or the delightful differences in Barbadian rums but do want to say that, ultimately, empathy for the perspective of the aggrieved (not just African Americans) or at least the willingness to listen and talk about stuff like this goes a looooong way.

  8. Explain something to me. How in any tangible way does changing street names, tearing down statues, and taking knees do anything for those who are “oppressed?”

    CAVEAT: If your answer includes the phrase “raising awareness” or any reference to “sensitivity” you are immediately discredited.

  9. Moose…

    Very well said, sir.

    Every time I think race relations are getting better in this country, I’m proven wrong.

    Oh well. Keep doing unto others, my brother. It always works out better that way in the long run.

  10. Laney…

    Thanks for chiming in. Yea, every so often, the Chump will take a stab at more serious matters.

    He just has to call in family for back up.

    Not sure renaming the street is apt punishment but… it’s a start?

  11. Thanks, MoS.

    It’ll be interesting to see what other organizations follow suit if this renaming goes through.

    Pretty sure there’s no more Marge Schott Boulevard.

  12. J-dub, assuming that question was for me. Don’t believe we’ve met and not certain of your viewpoints on anything so I won’t really aim for gaining credit/discredit with you but I will share my beliefs regarding the matter. It’s never been about just raising awareness or sensitivity. The issues go far beyond that. This is a matter of what I feel is doing right vs not doing right. I don’t really have the expertise to talk about renaming Yawkey way since I just heard about that yesterday.

    Let’s take the Kaep situation. He takes a knee to protest the injustices against African Americans (primarily overwhelming death rate by the hands of police) and the tendency by those in positions of power to ignore, dismiss it or condone it. Killed/murdered by police 3x more than anybody else, imprisoned 5x more than anybody else, voting disenfanchisement, etc.., etc.., etc.. Anyone can check .gov for the statistics. This is egregious. His purpose is to not just make people aware but to contribute to trying to get this changed. In this country, history has shown that if you don’t speak out or demand change against wrong, you won’t get it. History has also shown America to change slowly when it comes to civil treatment with minorities. In a previous Sports Chump column last year, I think I read where someone asked why he was doing it and that he, essentially, wasn’t a credible representative for civil rights protests so they were against him speaking out. Well, you gotta start somewhere and, to date, he has followed up his protests with tangible efforts other than just taking a knee. Many people said the same thing about MLK when he first started protesting but he had to start somewhere and he was inspired by people before him like Gandhi who supported human & civil rights. What if MLK just decided to remain silent and do nothing? What if history proves that what Kaep started really did help effect change? What if someone is inspired by Kaep and decides that he/she is able to do more than Kaep and takes it to a level that effects change?

    Statues. Is current society still ok with revering men that committed treason solely for the right to kidnap, imprison, torture and oppress an entire race of people? I’m not certain for the reason to staunchly defend revering treasonous losers of the Civil War who violated the Constitution but simultaneously having a problem with someone exercising the constitutional right to protest people getting murdered disproportionately by police because of skin color. American values are hugely about (or supposed to be about) all citizens being treated equally/equal opportunity for all. Implicit in every defense of Confederate monuments is the belief that African Americans aren’t full and equal members of society and that is the reasoning behind bringing them down. This isn’t just African Americans that believe that. A great amount of Americans that believe in civil liberties also agree. When American society moves toward equal treatment of African Americans or other minorities, that’s pretty tangible to me. Again, this doesn’t happen overnight. It never has.

    I’m always cool to talk at length with most about why I believe certain statues should be removed or other related issues but I’m kind of interested about the push back; not just on this forum, but generally as well. Anyone on this forum want to give their feelings/reasoning on why the statues should remain or why they have a problem with Kaep taking a knee?

  13. BTW, I wouldn’t necessarily advocate destroying statues, just bringing them down. I’d actually support moving them to some sort of centralized Civil War museum or something like that where the statues could be displayed in context.

  14. Alright D.C. – you brought the K into this so riddle me this…while you blame me for “revering” some old statue that I could give a rat’s ass about, why don’t you calll out the other side for not telling their own race to clean up their house instead of blaming me for their shortcomings? Better yet, why doesn’t K go all the way on this deal? He’s already screwed, he might as well aim for being the next Sharpton and scream into the night while taking no responsibility for any stupid shit that they encourage?

  15. Regarding the kneeler;

    Jim Brown on Kaepernick: ‘I’m an American — I Don’t Desecrate My Flag and My National Anthem’


    …..Not saying he doesn’t have the right to do it, just saying that those of us who disagree with his methods of “protest” have the exact same freedom of expression to voice our displeasure with him for it.

    Freedom of speech is just that whether we agree with what is being said or not. Personally, I hate both the warring factions in Charlottesville, the dipshit white supremacist Nazi assholes as equally as offensive as the pinko-commie ANTIFA assholes.

    As 1st Amendment loving Americans, I feel we should all live by this quote;

    “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

    -Evelyn Beatrice Hall

    Amen sister.

  16. Moose, don’t recall blaming you for anything. Was responding to J-Dub about the subject matter presented by our moderator. J-dub wondered about Kaep taking a knee. If you wanna talk about what you feel are shortcomings on a certain side we can talk about that but you’d have to be a bit more specific since I don’t know what you’re referring to. Not sure if we’d be getting off topic. Once again, Kaep has subsequently donated $1 million dollars to various orgs that support minority teaching and support programs and volunteered many hours of time working in person with these groups. Public knowledge.

    Jim Brown is definitely not the spokesperson for minorities. I don’t really respect the “insight” of a habitual domestic abuser who throws women out of cars, off balconies, rapes women… but that’s just me. That same fool said last fall that he was 100% behind Kaep. Long history of athletes not standing for the flag. Jackie Robinson and even athletes before him for the aforementioned issues. Past presidents have honored and praised their stance. Are these presidents anti-American as well?

    Yes, we all have the freedom to disagree but if someone is trying to convince me why Kaep is wrong in what he’s doing, I’ve yet to hear it. I’ve also yet to hear why certain people are so adamant that Lee statues remain.

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