Ethics Quiz: The Boston Red Sox And “Hate Speech”


I don’t know why it is that the Boston Red Sox are leading all of baseball in ethics controversies, but here’s the story:

The Red Sox have been playing the Orioles the last four days, in a series marked by rancor arising from an incident last week that has metastasized into an exchange of words, accusations and attempted beanballs.  After the first game in this series,  Orioles’ outfielder Adam Jones claimed that he had heard racial epithets from the stands, and a bag of peanuts had been thrown at him.  Boston  and the Red Sox in particular have a dubious racial history (the team was the last in baseball ito have a black player), so this immediately became a big story, with the Sox, MLB, the city, and even the governor expressing horror, regret, and outrage. No fan or Orioles player has stepped  forward to substantiate Jones’ accusations. I don’t doubt him, but that is relevant, because in the entire episode as it unfolded, conclusive evidence has been deemed unnecessary. Accusations alone confer guilt. In the next game, Fenway gave Jones a long standing ovation on his first trip to the plate, saying, in essence, “We’re sorry you were treated this way, and we reject that disgusting conduct.” Good. That is the Fenway Park I know.

Then it was reported that another fan who was in the crowd at Fenway  the next night has been banned for life by the Red Sox. Team president Sam Kennedy said that the fan received the lifetime ban for using a racial slur to to describe a Kenyan woman who sang the National Anthem before the game, in a conversation with another fan.

Calvin Hennick, a Boston resident bringing his son to his first Red Sox game as a present for his sixth birthday, wrote on Facebook and confirmed to the Associated Press  that a  fan sitting near him used “nigger” when referring to the National  Anthem singer that night. Hennick asked the man to repeat what he had said, and when he did,Hennick summoned security. The Fenway security ejected the offending fan, who denied using a racial slur….you know, like Giles Corey denied being a witch.

Kennedy thanked Hennick, who is white, for coming forward. Says NBC baseball writer Craig Calcaterra, who once was a lawyer and presumably understood basic principles of justice, process, and fairness, “Kudos to the Red Sox for acting so swiftly.”

The Red Sox acted swiftly, all right.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is this...

Is it fair, proportionate, reasonable and just to ban a baseball spectator for life under these circumstances?

I want to read the responses, but I feel like I am in a foreign culture sometimes with the public and media response to some ethics stories. Craig’s reaction is overwhelmingly the majority one, and nobody of note is questioning the Red Sox actions, which seems to me to be flagrant grandstanding—literally!—and an astounding draconian move to exact vengeance on a single fan who engaged in thought-crime at a ball park.

What’s going on here?

It’s obvious, isn’t it? The Boston Red Sox organization was embarrassed and held up to national scrutiny because one or more racist jackasses in the cheap seats harassed Adam Jones. They couldn’t find the fans involved—there’s an alleged “investigation” ongoing which is either futile or a sham—but the team had to do something fast to show it took the problem seriously, “the problem” ranging from the mistreatment of opposing players to the persistence of racism in the world, By a stroke of fate, Mr. Hennick quickly handed them the perfect scapegoat with which to cleanse themselves of sin.

Never mind that there has never been any stated policy that banning for life would result from any designated conduct; the Red Sox are a private business (though a public institution) and can refuse entry to anyone for any legal reason. Never mind that the team has readmitted drunks, brawlers, people who vomited on other fans, vulgarians (it permits, and has permitted for decades, mass chants of “Yankees suck!” from the stands); now the team is determined to send the message that a racial epithet doesn’t even have to be shouted at an opposing player to warrant permanent ejection from Red Sox Nation. Daring to utter, even whisper, such a word in the confines of Friendly Fenway makes a citizen unworthy of fandom. Though one has never been published, suggested or hinted at, there is now a de facto speech code for spectators at Fenway Park!

What other words will be judged ban-worthy, I wonder? Surely “nigger” can’t be the only one. What about “cunt,” Bill Maher’s favorite word? When the inevitable female knuckleball specialist takes the mound and some leather-lunged pig-fan has the opportunity to hurl that at an opposing player, will that mandate a ban? How about if the fan whispers the word under his breath after she strikes out the side with the bases loaded? By the Hennick Rule, I would assume so. When baseball finally has an openly gay player, will over-heard speech between two Southie pals in the bleachers using gay slurs like “fag” be deemed justification to banish them forever? Why not?

What about “cock holster”?

Let me get this straight, now, so I know what the double-secret rules are. If I find a fan behind me to be obnoxious at Fenway, all I have to do is tell an usher that he used one of the taboo words withing earshot, and that alone will be enough not only to have him removed from his seat, but banned for life from ever engaging in the civic religion Boston calls “Rooting for the Sawks.”  Is that right, Sam Kennedy? Tell me, Sam, what if you receive an anonymous letter stating that a season ticket-holder—hey! What if it’s Samuel L. Jackson?— frequently uses “nigger” in private discussions? What then? An investigation? An inquisition? Or a pre-crime banning for life?

If so, I call bullshit, or would, except that it the word might get me banned from my favorite place on earth.

If  Calvin Hennick were a fair and ethical individual and not a censorious social justice vigilante, he would have told the fan involved that such language was inappropriate  anywhere, but that he particularly objected to it in the presence of his son. He would have given the man a chance to say, “I’m sorry, you’re right. I was being a jerk. I apologize.” Instead, Calvin asked the man to repeat the slur so he could call the authorities on him, knowing full well of the previous night’s controversy and that the Red Sox would be primed to fall on him like a ton of bricks.

Nice. Golden Rule, Cal? Have you heard of the Golden Rule?

Even more disturbing to me than the merciless conduct of Cal and the self-serving over-reaction of the Red Sox is the fact that nobody in the news media, sports media and national punditry have the ethical perception, or perhaps the guts, to point out what’s wrong here, and it is wrong.

Maybe I am in a foreign culture, or one I’ve read about in pessimistic novels. It is a culture determined to control thought, private discourse and personal opinion by power and force. I guess it’s just me, but I find that far more significant than the fact that a couple of Boston fans out of 37,000 shouted racial slurs at Adam Jones.

52 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: The Boston Red Sox And “Hate Speech”

  1. Context matters. If this had happened in Chicago, or Cleveland, not as big a deal. Boston has serious HISTORY. Google Louise Day Hicks. Ask any black athlete. Google the legacy of Southie.
    Not all ethics answers can be pure as the driven snow. I’m not saying he should or shouldkn’t be banned for life, but the fact that this took place in Boston, I’d argue, is relevant.
    (And Jack, I do share your fondness for the town. But still)

    • Oh, by all means, the Red Sox hypersensitivity is justified, as is Boston’s. This most liberal of cities has always had a strong racist component. But Boston’s past is not the fault of one fan, and it doesn’t justify grandstanding.

      • No, it doesn’t, but some forms of heckling should be out of bounds. Use of the “N” word qualifies for the”out of bounds” territory, IMO.

        That said, I would have felt far better if they had more than just the one eyewitness claim.

        • Did you read the post? The banned fan WASN’T heckling. That’s the whole point. He was talking to another fan.

          See, this is why the Sox conduct is insidious. The casual assumption of those barely paying attention is that the banned fan did what Jones complained of . He didn’t.

          • My mistake – I replied in a rush, and conflated the two incidents.

            My understanding is that there was only one eyewitness who claimed the banned fan used the N word. That seems very thin for a lifetime ban.

      • The question I would raise is, where’s the line between grandstanding and insisting context doesn’t matter? Shouldn’t Boston be more sensitive to these issues, given its history?

        I think it’s fair to ask just where the lines should be drawn – in that context, it’s perfectly fair to say a lifetime ban is too much. But to go all the way to the other extreme, and say that a racist incident in Boston should be treated no differently from one in Seattle or Philly, is also not reasonable. History matters. There’s a reason the Japanese are very careful about funding a military, and the Germans are super-sensitive about right-wing hate crimes.

        The Red Sox and Boston local leaders are, and quite rightly should be, more sensitive to such issues than the average city, and we should all be glad they are.

        • But I didn’t even suggest that. The fan was banned based on one fan’s unsubstantiated accusation. Context or not: how does that meet basic fairness, proportion and justice standards? It doesn’t. Something isn’t made less wrong by what happens after it, and something isn’t usually made more wrong because of history. A single conversation in the stands is not ground for banning, no matter what went before.

        • And what should the good administrators of Skokie do about Neo-Nazis marching through town, given, you know, the history of many residents and their parents and grandparents with the Nazis last century?

  2. The sad fact is, an atmosphere has been created where the mere accusation of racism (or misogyny, homophobia, or transphobia) is considered enough to ruin a person’s life or career.

    Look at what is happening to Mark E. Green. The man is slated to be President Trump’s pick for Secretary of the Army – he has served with elite units like the 82nd Airborne and the 160th Special Operation Aviation Regiment. The resume is impeccable (he has been decorated for valor), but he is accused of transphobia due to being a devout Christian.

  3. As you can imagine I thought of an answer in advance or part of one.

    Ejection was warranted, no question. Similar to a drunk threatening to get rowdy, the fan was behaving in a way to diminish other people’s enjoyment of the game. Specifically spouting off racist crap to a Man and his obviously mix-raced kid. That goes beyond boorish and into harassment.

    Does harassment merit a lifetime ban? I’m the forgiving sort, the rest of the year should have been enough to drive the point home. It being a first offence as far as anyone knows.

          • Directing the comments at someone else doesn’t change their nature. As I said, before, it’s harassing not merely boorish. His ticket entitled him to enjoy the game, not ruin the enjoyment of the people around him.

            • You are hardly the forgiving sort, V-girl, given your comments about how you wanted to castrate Majority Leader McConnell and set his genitals on fire, not to mention your disturbing post-election talk about a second civil war and the murder of governors. You are allowed to give your opinions, but please don’t gaslight.

              The guy was an ignoramus and an idiot, no doubt of that, and should have saved the hate-spew for later when he was with his buddies and had had a drink or two, but, at the very least, there should have been a code of conduct spelled out in the literature that comes with a ticket, explaining what’s allowed, what’s not, and what the penalties are. A lifetime ban for using vile language? That’s the penalty levied on John Green for throwing garbage at a player and helping ignite the Pacers-Pistons brawl, which was a complete sportsmanship and PR disaster. It’s also setting fans up to become snowflakes and liars just like the woman who made up the story of a stereotypical redneck giving her son a hard time for wearing a pink headband.

            • I disagree, valky. Saying a racial slur in the earshot of a minority in a public place isn’t enough to constitute harassment, though directing it at someone would be. It would also constitute workplace harassment if the two were co-workers, but workplace rules are much more stringent.

  4. I should have mentioned this: the threat of a lifetime ban is almost completely unenforceable. The fan could buy a ticket and sit in a seat without anyone knowing who he was. Grandstanding: seems like a decisive action, isn’t.

    • You sure about that? Tickets are usually purchased online now, using credit cards. Wouldn’t it be relatively easy (not being an IT expert) to create a database of people who are not allowed to buy tickets? Don’t you have to show ID to get through security?

      • Not at Nationals Park, you don’t, and I doubt it makes any difference: those fold at the turnstiles pay no attention. Baseball tickets aren’t like airline tickets: my wife can by five, and I can use any one I please.

        Yeah, I’m sure. It’s a phony ban. Does that make it better, or worse?

        • Neither. But that IS food for thought when I think about a suggestion I made once on the musical side of things for limiting tickets sold to fans designated by management as obsessive or dangerous by creating a database, requiring ID to enter events, and so on.

      • “Tickets are usually purchased online now, using credit cards. Wouldn’t it be relatively easy (not being an IT expert) to create a database of people who are not allowed to buy tickets?”

        Could they? Sure. Have they yet? No.

        “Don’t you have to show ID to get through security?”

        No, it’s a sports game, not an airplane.

  5. The guy was an idiot for repeating it, I might add. That said, what if you think you hear someone say something you find objectionable, ask him to repeat it, and he tells you to get lost/kiss his ass/bite him?

  6. I wrote an article a few years ago about antics at Fenway Park. (link below). I was on a radio show recently and the question was tossed to me about the biggest change I have witnessed in the Red Sox over the years. Easy one – race. You would never see a person of color at Fenway until the last 15-20 years. That has changed dramatically with everyone dressed in Red Sox gear. Go to Mattapan and see black fans with Red Sox shirts and hats. Ditto for Hispanic. What happened was one or two beer-fueled idiots with a 1950s mentality acted stupidly.

    As far as overheard a conversation with someone using questionable terminology that opens up a whole world of he said/she said.

  7. Amazing. I had assumed the guy who was banned for life was the guy who heckled Adam Jones (What ever happened to Andru Jones? Shows you how far I’ve been from baseball for at least a decade), not some random guy in a private conversation with a Social Justice Warrior the next night. That’s crazy. Are any black guys going to be banned for using “honky” or “cracker” in a private conversation? Oh wait, what am I saying? Context matters. Minorities can’t be racist! Of course. Silly me.

    • Would they let Niggers With Attitude sing The National Anthem? Guess not. How about two black guys talking and calling each other “Nigger?” Ban for life?

  8. “It is a culture determined to control thought, private discourse and personal opinion by power and force.”

    Yes. Yes this is the culture & my brown skinned self is sick of it.

    No one ever dies from *hearing* an offensive word. My gosh people are not as weak as some think & hearing some jerk use racist words to be a jerk just shows how jerky they are, racist or not. This walking on eggshells thing that liberal whites are trying to inflict on other whites & the supposed downtrodden is nothing more than the kind of cultish group think followers of Jim Jones would have probably swallowed.

    I live in a town where this kind of smug self congratulatory white liberalism (socialism) is the dominant ethos & it’s making things MORE divided here not less. People are literally scared to talk here for fear of pissing off people who claim social justice ON THE BEHALF of minorities (of course they usually have a minority useful idiot or 2 around to affirm their ethical white liberal superiority – hello Adam Jones). It’s maddening because in order to attempt a real conversation you have to know words like *cissexist* to get anywhere.

    Adam Jones is a whiner & this whole story is about tearing down sports to remake it in the social justice warriors image. That guy who supposedly said nigger should be given another chance & baseball (and all sports) should get back to focusing on the game. Many of us “poor helpless downtrodden” minorities would appreciate a good game & a cold beer over some political BS any day.

  9. Perhaps we should focus on what we are teaching the young. This was an ideal opportunity for the father to explain to his 6 year old son that such language is mean and hurtful and using bigoted language reflects poorly on a man’s character. He could also go on to explain to his child that as he goes through life he can expect to hear people say things that hurts him but that is the price we all pay for the right to express ourselves without the threat of government throwing us in jail. He should tell his child that simply because someone says something about another does not make it true – in fact you may learn more about the person saying hurtful things.

    If the father wanted to teach his child how to react to bullies and bigots there are many other ways to convey his displeasure of hearing the comment. It does not take a rocket scientist to understand that a demand to repeat the remark was clearly an “in your face” response to the offending remark. So, dad the hero gets in the face of a guy at the park after the guy makes a remark dad does not like. Dad gets other guy banned for life. Dad is the hero, and the boy learns how to react in such circumstances.

    A six year old cannot understand the subtleties of the encounter. So, as I see it what everyone involved has taught the child is that by alerting the authorities to unwelcome language you can inflict punishment on another.
    The incident has taught the child that he can confront another and make demands upon him with impunity. The child does not learn that such acts could cause consequences that could result in bodily harm depending on who he confronts.

    The incident has further eroded the concept of a free and open society. And we wonder why there is a lack of understanding of basic civics and a decline in civil discourse.

    • “Perhaps we should focus on what we are teaching the young.”
      The problem is that there is a large group in America whose goal is to teach the young exactly what you so perceptively pointed out he was taught by this episode. They also have the objective of further eroding “the concept of a free and open society.” This blog has reported many cases related to erosion of free speech on campus. This is an example of injecting those speech codes and “safe spaces” into another area of American life.

      According to an article in the Washington Post today, “Four California high school students who were suspended for “liking” and commenting on racist Instagram posts have filed a federal lawsuit alleging administrators paraded them through the school and allowed their classmates to berate them as part of a “healing” exercise” and “School administrators allowed the student body to hurl obscenities, scream profanities, and jeer at the Plaintiffs and the other suspended students” Perhaps as a condition of lifting his lifelong suspension, Kennedy could have this fan paraded through the stands at Fenway to be subjected to abuse by other fans so he could be healed.

  10. Do the Red Sox have the right to enforce certain behavior patterns at the ballpark? They have non-smoking, an already in place response to taunting, interferance with balls in play, limited drinking and other measures. This is just an extension of that.

    • And they have a right to require everyone to cheer for the Sox, wear Anti-Trump T-shirts and not wear MAGA hats, talk in squeaky voices and carry dead parrots as a condition of entry.

      • Maybe using “right” in my statement was wrong? They do have standards of behavior that are present and I have seen them enforced. I have seen folks tossed over rowdy behavior and unaccepatble comments to players and other fans. The antics between Mets and Yankee fans a few years ago was priceless. Throw some “F” bombs (or other language) and you may get tossed – if reported. My issue is the context of the conversation that got the ban. Seems like someone beside a player had “rabbit ears.”

  11. I agree, Jack.

    I think in this case the father misunderstood the “duty to confront.” The man who said the racial slur was acting unethically, and setting a poor example for the children around him; the father was right to say something to him. But he wasn’t right to involve security, which is supposed to be handling actual risks, not whispered words. If the man got hostile with security after then a lifetime ban may have been justified, but it doesn’t seem like that’s the case.

  12. This is a tough one. I’ve been mulling it over for two days now and I still cannot come up with an answer that sits well with me.

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