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.