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As MLB looks at hate-speech policies, Orioles aim to provide family-friendly home atmosphere

When Baltimore resident Daniel Spriggs heard about the racial slurs that Orioles center fielder Adam Jones received earlier this week at Fenway Park, it didn't surprise him — because Spriggs said he has heard the same language while attending a Red Sox game in Boston.

Spriggs, 31, took his 5-year-old son, Jackson, to his first baseball game at Camden Yards on Friday night, saying that attending a major league ballgame in Baltimore is much different than what he experienced in Boston.

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"From what I hear, and my own experience in Boston, it didn't seem too off base," said Spriggs, who said he heard racial slurs being hurled while attending a game at Fenway Park five years ago while he was on a work trip. "I wasn't surprised at all. Boston is an isolated situation. I've only been to three ballparks — the Braves' [in Atlanta], Boston and here, and Boston was the only place I've seen or experienced anything in the racial [sense]."

In the wake of this week's events, Major League Baseball is reaching out to all 30 clubs to review their policies and procedures when handling abusive language and hate speech. It's the first step of canvasing the baseball landscape to re-evaluate how individual clubs handle such language in the stands and directed toward players.

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"Our clubs do a wonderful job in terms of providing an environment for fans," MLB spokesman Pat Courtney said. "After a situation like this occurs, you owe it to everyone to look into what's going on so you can continue to provide that."

At Camden Yards, the Orioles' code of conduct makes reference to "foul [or] abusive language" and notes that "any fan infringing on another fan's enjoyment of the game is subject to ejection from the ballpark."

"I think the Orioles do a good job of creating a more family-friendly atmosphere," Spriggs said as he and his son sat in the second row in right-center field above the grounds crew shed. "I definitely feel like they have measures for you to report stuff and I they have a text line so that if people are getting too rowdy, that we can report and get people reported to authorities. Camden Yards is definitely family friendly. I have no problem bringing my kids down here and enjoying the game."

Like many ballparks across the country, the Orioles offer an alternative to telling ushers about abusive language by using a text line in which fans can report problems anonymously. Signs telling fans about the text line are along the concourse and there are pregame and in-game notices as well.

Before Friday's game — the Orioles' first at home after returning from Boston — a new pregame message was read and displayed on the video board that "threatening language or any type of hate speech will not be tolerated and will result in ejection from the ballpark."

"The Orioles have always had a family-friendly environment that we've cultivated where excessive profanity, threatening language, hate speech is not tolerated and is dealt with immediately and severely," said Greg Bader, the Orioles' vice president of communications and marketing. "We feel that our staff is prepared to take whatever steps are needed to properly address those fans who get out of hand with their comments."

Bader added that hate speech has not been a problem at Camden Yards in the past.

"Fans attending Camden Yards overall are extremely well behaved and it's extremely rare that we ever have to get involved with having to eject someone from the ballpark and it's even more rare that that incident would be over some sort of racial- or other hate-speech-related issue," Bader said. "I don't personally recall an incident like this having occurred here."

While good-natured heckling of visiting players by fans has been a part of sports for years, there is a line between that and the racial slurs that Jones and other African-American players have come out to say they've been exposed to in the past.

"In the old days, a guy would call someone a bum," Parkton resident Ken Ross said. "That was all in good fun, but what happened [to Jones] was out of bounds and well over the line. And I've lived in Baltimore my entire life, I've gone to a lot of games at Memorial Stadium, a lot of games here; Ravens, Colts, Orioles, and I don't know if I've ever witnessed that in my entire life. Not in our stadium."

Ultimately, one of MLB's goals is ensuring that black players are comfortable with speaking up about racial slurs. Since Jones spoke up, other black players have also revealed how they've been treated in Boston and elsewhere.

But Ross, 60, said he believes it could be difficult to monitor and enforce when fans use abusive language. And some of that places the onus on fans to speak up when they hear abusive language. They're far away from getting to this point, but MLB would then have to devise a suitable punishment for hate speech, whether it's ejection, banishment or something else.

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"Racial slurs shouldn't happen," Ross said. "I've taunted Ben Roethlisberger before, not because of who he is but because he played for the Steelers. But I don't think getting personal, saying stuff to players, it's not appropriate and shouldn't be expected. It's hard to control in a stadium atmosphere with all the people. It's pretty hard. They have a hard enough time controlling fights and stuff like that."

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