Orioles' Adam Jones says racial slurs crossed line, receives ovation during game

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said Tuesday that he's all for the typical trash talk that comes from the stands at major league ballparks — and he's heard it over his 10-year career — but made it clear that racial slurs directed at him at Fenway Park on Monday night crossed a line.

His acknowledgment of the incident set off swift reaction and support from the host Red Sox, the city of Boston and Major League Baseball, showing just how significant his voice has become in a sport that's low on African-American representation and in a nation where racial tensions simmer hotter by the day.

"I think it's always timing," Jones said. "I try to make sure I don't just flood everybody with everything that goes on, because every single day, there's always something going on. But it was just the right time. It was something that was on my mind. It was frustrating to me. I'm a grown man with a family to raise, so I'm not going to let nobody sit there and berate me. I'm a grown man.

"Where I come from, you say things like that, you put on the gloves and go after it. Obviously in the real world, you can't do that — especially in my field. So, I just hope that the awareness comes."

Boston certainly noticed. When Jones came up to bat in the first inning Tuesday night, much of the crowd at Fenway Park stood and applauded Jones. He said he wanted to be treated like any old visitor in a gray jersey, but he stepped out of the batter's box to soak it all in, as if a day of uncomfortable race conversations had finally produced some good.

On Monday, a fan threw a bag of peanuts at him as he came into the Orioles dugout during the nationally televised game, and he said fans crossed the line past typical visiting-team taunts when they used the "N-word."

Ultimately, 34 fans were ejected, the Red Sox said.

Almost immediately Tuesday morning, baseball and Boston supported the Orioles star, who originally made his comments to USA Today and The Boston Globe. In statements, all four of baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker used the word "unfortunate," among others, to condemn the fan behavior.

Red Sox president Sam Kennedy issued a statement in the morning apologizing to Jones, saying the team has "zero tolerance for such inexcusable behavior."

Later in the day, Red Sox star outfielder Mookie Betts, who is also African-American, took to social media and asked Boston fans to "literally stand up for" Jones. Kennedy and Red Sox owner John Henry then met with Jones and Orioles manager Buck Showalter.

"I think they'll handle it," Showalter said of the Red Sox. "I can tell by their sincerity and their intensity about this that they're going to get as far as they can get with it, especially the people throwing stuff into the dugout and at Adam. I looked at the videotape of that. It just can't be tolerated."

Kennedy told reporters before the game that in that meeting, Henry commended Jones for speaking out. It turned out that after meeting with their own players, Red Sox management found their own minority players hear the same things. Pitcher David Price and former outfielder Carl Crawford have highlighted that, and Kennedy said the team is going to be much stricter toward fan behavior.

In the short term, there will be more security along the foul lines and in center field. In the long term, those who act inappropriately might not be welcome back.

"I haven't heard a case of a team pressing legal charges against a fan, but it doesn't mean it hasn't happened and it doesn't mean that we can't do it," Kennedy said. "We want to make sure that our fans know and the market knows that offensive language, racial taunts, slurs are unacceptable. If you do it, you're going to be ejected. If you do it, you're going to be subject to having your tickets revoked for a year, maybe for life. We're going to look at that. We haven't made any firm decisions, but it just can't happen."

Jones stopped short of saying this was only a Boston problem, though the city's perception of having race problems seems well-earned when it comes to athletes. Jones said Price reached out to him this morning, and at some point in the day, he was informed of the struggles of Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell.

"Bill Russell won 11 championships here, and things I heard happen to him based solely on skin color, it's unfortunate," Jones said of the Basketball Hall of Famer. "You think that you get away from that, especially being in sports. You come across all walks of life. … I'm not going to nitpick and say here is bad. There's a long history of these kind of incidents in Boston.

I've spoken with various players of different eras, and a lot of things that they told me, I can't say."

Showalter, who also didn't want to throw a blanket over Boston as a whole by saying he's not surprised that it happened, said it's instead a societal issue.

"It's unfortunate, and it's sad, and it's just like a disease," Showalter said.

Jones, 31, has chosen to speak out before, such as when a banana was thrown at him in San Francisco in 2013, and when the city of Baltimore was so emotionally damaged by the unrest surrounding the death of Freddie Gray because of injuries suffered in police custody in 2015. Last summer, Jones also called attention to the racial divides in the sport when he called baseball a "white man's game" in an interview regarding the protests on race relations occurring in the NFL in September.

He didn't shy away from the larger implications of what he said, noting that "with what's going on in the real world, things like this — people are outraged and speaking out at an alarming rate.

"Nothing is at rest when it comes to race," Jones said. "Let's be honest with ourselves. It's been going on for a long, long time, way before I've been in baseball, and right before I was alive. It's all about having a conversation. Once you have the dialogue, that means you can work towards a resolve. I think with the dialogue, we can work toward something."

Jones, those around him say, is a strong vehicle for the change he hopes to see. He has often spoken out about how underrepresented African-Americans are in baseball, with the percentage such players on Opening Day rosters dropping to 8.5 percent this year. Jones and relief pitcher Mychal Givens are the only African-Americans on the Orioles' major league roster.

That this series with Boston turned into such a cauldron, with tensions on the field between the two heated rivals drawing plenty of national media attention and several nationally televised games, Jones found a venue he said felt right to him.

His father-in-law, former NFL star and Baltimore native Jean Fugett, said Tuesday afternoon that he hadn't talked to Jones since the incident, but his message would be a direct one: "I'd tell him that I'm happy he's in a position where he can speak out about this."

Showalter, who insisted he couldn't speak for Jones because he doesn't know what he feels in his heart about it, said Jones' words carry more weight as a star athlete and an iconic figure in his home city.

"I'd like to say I hope not, but they do," Showalter said. "Wouldn't you like to think that everybody's voice has the same? But Adam's does. Adam, as he's gotten older, he chooses words a lot more wisely.

He knows the weight his words carry."

jmeoli@baltsun.com

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Baltimore Sun reporter Mike Klingaman contributed to this article.

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