Racism: it exists. Baltimore Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones was subjected to racist taunts all night at Fenway Park on Monday, and said it was one of the worst experiences he's ever had. Jones said he was called the N-word "a handful of times," which he sarcastically described as "pretty awesome."
"Tonight was one of the worst,'' Jones said, slowly exhaling, "it's different. Very unfortunate. It is what it is, right. I just go out and play baseball.
"But it's unfortunate that people need to resort to those type of epithets to degrade another human being. I'm out there trying to make a living for myself and for my family."
Jones also had a bag of peanuts thrown at him while returning to the dugout. He said he was told that 59 or 60 people were thrown out of Fenway last night, for one reason or another, including the man who threw the peanuts at him.
It's an amazing thing, to hear a professional athlete, a man who has dedicated himself to a particular craft for so long, and so successfully, tell a group of reporters—a man so successful that he subsidizes employment for countless others—that he's been denigrated by a morally-bankrupt person or group of people. In every single way, Adam Jones is a better human being than those hurling words and food at him. He has reached the pinnacle of his profession. He is a thoughtful and intelligent person. He does not go around throwing out racial slurs. Granted, the last one is not a particularly high bar for one's life, but the people in the Fenway stands couldn't even jump over it. And yet, clearly, they somehow feel superior to Jones.
Part of the reason for that, I think, is that we're living through a strange historical moment. The polarizing nature of our political discourse has infected the general discourse. No one talks anymore, they argue, using regurgitated talking points from their (polarized!) news source of choice. It's having a trickle-down effect on the way people interact with each other. When "news" becomes merely a sound bite that aligns perfectly with your world view, it emboldens you and makes you think your view is correct and everything else is wrong. This is why you can't keep "politics" out of sports. Politics is in everything.
When you consider something as ever-present as racism through this lens, however, it is perhaps not so amazing to hear that some schlub in the Fenway bleachers called a ballplayer a slur. And of course, black ballplayers have been subjected to racist taunts for as long as their have been black ballplayers and racists to taunt them. Not three weeks ago, Major League Baseball celebrated Jackie Robinson Day, a day when we recognize what Robinson did in crossing the color barrier, but not so much what he endured. That is to say, what happened to Jones is not new. It's just that it feels easier, or more acceptable, right now than it has in a long time. Given the social context, I'm more confident that this will get worse than I am that it will get better.
Adam Jones wants to punish people for this sort of behavior by fining them tens of thousands of dollars—not unlike the punishment doled out to a player who mouths off at an umpire through the press—but a better solution might be older school; one locals might remember (if they can read). If you want to publicly embarrass a person by calling them a slur in front of tens of thousands of people, we should release your name, and publicly label you a racist.