I think that even the most ardent of Red Sox haters would agree that Fenway Park is a pretty cool place to watch a baseball game. It’s a national treasure, one of the most recognizable sports venues in the world. Fenway is the oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball, opening in 1917, and also one of the smallest, a full capacity of just over 37,000.
Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones has a much less positive opinion of the park, having been subject to racial taunts and a thrown peanut bag during a game on May first.
It was an unfortunate incident, an embarrassment for the Red Sox and it’s fans, but not one that I found overly surprising. Not because of any prejudice that might be held by the people of Boston, but because anytime that you put 37,000 people in one place and give the majority of them copious amounts of watered down beer, there are going to be some that behave poorly. This just seems a mathematical probability, something that happens in all sports and in all stadiums. According to the Society for American Baseball Research, 36.3% of major league players were something other than American born and white, but just 6.7% were African American. As reprehensible as it is, it stands to reason that these players, being such a minority, would be singled out by ignorant, intoxicated miscreants.
In any city or stadium.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the narrative in the three weeks since the incident. What should have been a discussion about efforts made to try and discourage this type of behavior, both in the stands and everywhere else in society, has instead turned into another opportunity to label the city and it’s fans as racist. Players from other teams, CC Sebathia, Torii Hunter and others have been trotted out to tell stories of abuse hurled their way by unruly Bostonians. Once again we are reminded that the Red Sox were the last team in the league to field a black player, a signing that occurred in 1959 and hardly seems relevant to current perceptions.
So why won’t this story, this perception go away?
I think that for many it’s simply an easy way to insult, as lazy and unimaginative as the slurs yelled by the occasional bigoted jackass. Boston’s teams have been among the most successful in all of sports and their fans aren’t afraid to remind others of this. The city is home to elite colleges and hospitals. Thought to be among the most progressive in the nation, Massachusetts is squarely “blue state” in a time when that seems to have become synonymous with “elitist arrogance.”
A lot of people seem to think that we think that we’re better than them, and there is nothing more satisfying than finding ways to prove somebody like that wrong.
Its a lesson that I think politicians would be wise to learn. I’m convinced Al Gore, John Kerry, and Mitt Romney all lost their Presidential elections in part because to a large segment of the population they were just too unlikable, they presented themselves as arrogant and smug, smarter than anybody else in the room. When Hillary Clinton rolled her eyes and smirked at Donald Trump’s incoherency during last year’s debates she was perceived as inferring that he was beneath her attention. She helped make an elitist narcissist appear relatable, a limited vocabulary and knowledge of the issues suddenly a benefit to his popularity, a stark contrast to her attitude of superiority.
Take a moment and think about the people you dislike the most, be they athletes, celebrities, politicians, co workers or the fan bases of certain sports teams. The majority of them are people that you feel hold themselves in higher regard than they do you.
Later this evening the NBA’s Boston Celtics will host the Cleveland Cavaliers in game one of the Eastern Conference finals. In the stands will be plenty of people in brand new Kelly Olynyk jerseys. Olynyk was the improbable hero of the Celtic’s victory over the Washington Wizards, the reason why the team was able to advance to face the Cavaliers. A gritty reserve player, Olynyk came off the bench to score twenty six points, twelve of those over a pivotal three and a half minute stretch in the fourth quarter. Undoubtedly there will be inferences about his new found popularity in Boston being in part due to the fact that he is a white player.
Boston will be huge underdogs in this series. The Cavaliers are led by Lebron James, considered by most to be the greatest basketball player on the planet right now. No matter who he was playing I’d be among those rooting for him to lose, aggravated by my perception of him as somebody that has no problem putting himself onto that pedestal.
I hate people like that.