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Baltimore Orioles All-Star center fielder Adam Jones arrived Tuesday afternoon at Fenway Park, saw the news cameras lined along Yawkey Way, the horde of reporters awaiting outside the clubhouse, and understood his impact.
Jones delivered the wake-up call that Major League Baseball, and perhaps all of society, needed.
Seventy years and 17 days have passed since Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier, but as Jones reminded us Monday, and reiterated Tuesday, racism is alive and well in the good ol' USA.
Jones was taunted by racial slurs during the Orioles' game Monday against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park and a bag of peanuts was thrown at him while he was entering the dugout. He told USA TODAY Sports it was one of the worst incidents he's had to endure during his 12-year career.
There was immediate reaction and outrage. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh issued an apology before folks even showed up to work, saying, "We are better than this." Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker tweeted that the Fenway Park fans' behavior was unacceptable. Red Sox owner John Henry and club President Sam Kennedy personally apologized to Jones and Orioles manager Buck Showalter, talked to their own players and vowed to make changes. Commissioner Rob Manfred issued a statement reminding teams they should remove anyone using offensive language from their ballparks.
The racial epithets directed toward Jones dominated the news cycle of every TV channel and radio station in town, resurrecting the stereotypes and skeletons of Boston's past, reminding us that the Red Sox were the last baseball team to integrate in 1959.
"I've never been called the N-word anywhere but Boston," New York Yankees veteran pitcher CC Sabathia told reporters. "There's 62 of us (African-American players in MLB). We all know. When you go to Boston, expect it."
Jones, who said he was called a racial slur by several different fans Monday, was asked how many times he's heard racial epithets in his 12-year career at Fenway Park. He couldn't come up with a number, saying he doesn't have enough hands and toes to count.
"I can't say that I'm completely shocked that it happened, because it's happened before," Red Sox outfielder Chris Young said. "It's happened to probably the majority of black players in the game."
The hideous and repulsive reality is that this isn't limited to Boston. It happens virtually every day. In almost every ballpark. Just ask every African-American player who has played the game, and you'll hear the chilling stories.
They'll talk about the slurs coming from the stands, the racist mail delivered to their mailboxes and the ugly behavior exhibited when alcohol gives fans liquid courage.
"When Dusty (Baker) and I were in Chicago, we were called every name but the name our parents gave us," former 21-year veteran pitcher LaTroy Hawkins said. "We got all of the derogatory hate mail. You didn't really talk about it, because it brings out more clowns and unwanted attention."
Jones, 31, afraid that he was becoming almost immune to the racial slurs, finally had enough. He showed the courage to speak out, condemning the ugly behavior, never raising his voice during his 15-minute interview with about 50 reporters, only expressing his frustration and exasperation.
"I thought we moved past that a long time ago," Jones said, "but obviously what's going on in the real world, things like this, people are outraged and speaking up at an alarming rate.
"It's unfortunate I had to be involved in it."
Yet, in many ways, Jones is the ideal man to speak out. He is one baseball's greatest ambassadors. In March, he helped lead Team USA to its first gold medal in the World Baseball Classic. He was the Orioles' nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award for humanitarianism.
He also is the face of the Orioles franchise and one of their biggest stars, who just happens to be an African American.
"I love that he came out and talked about what's been going on," Eric Davis, a former All-Star outfielder who played 17 years, told USA TODAY Sports. "It's always been a problem. Just nobody wanted to hear it.
"What bothers me is that people act like it doesn't exist. They want to sweep it under the rug and want you to maintain your sanity. That's impossible to do when you're a human being."
In fact, when Jones was asked what he'd do if he came face-to-face with any of those who used racial slurs Monday, he said: "Square up. Let's fight and get it over with."
The Red Sox planned to increase stadium security and make more public service announcements, and they threatened to permanently revoke tickets to anyone who uses a racial epithet.
Red Sox players such as David Price and Mookie Betts encouraged fans to stand up and cheer Jones when he first came to the plate Tuesday. It would be standing up to racism, Betts said.
Jones appreciated the gesture but dismissed it.
"Boo me, tell me I suck, that's what I want," Jones says, "I don't need any special treatment. I don't want no love. No support. Treat me as normal. Enjoy yourself. Have a couple of pops. Just keep the racist stuff out of there."
Red Sox fans ignored Jones' wishes and gave him polite applause that turned into a standing ovation when Red Sox ace Chris Sale stepped off the mound, allowing the cheers to continue.
Manfred and the Red Sox are imploring fans to speak up. If they hear racial taunts, report it. If they see ugly behavior, call security. No longer can fans quietly sit by and not act. They shouldn't have to get threats from season ticketholders like Sean Dillon, who expressed his outrage in a letter Tuesday.
"I grew up in a long line of Red Sox fans, and I want my two daughters' first game to be at Fenway Park," said Dillon, a compliance lawyer from Vermont. "But when I read what happened, that made me think twice about taking my kids to the game.
"Maybe this is a good thing this hits a raw nerve. Quite frankly, they have a history there. So I'm glad this has come to light. This may lead to change."
Jones told USA TODAY Sports before his news conference that he understood why fans hearing racial taunts have kept quiet. It's uncomfortable to speak out, he says, it's easier to simply ignore it.
Maybe now, all of that will change.
"That's what bothers me, is how come no one did anything about it in the stands?" Davis says. "There should be a skirmish when people hear that stuff. Instead of laughing and not saying anything, which they normally do, slap him upside his head. Get that fan out of there."
Perhaps now people will speak up. Maybe they'll even act. And, just maybe, ballparks can be isolated from the real world.
"I can't even relate to what Adam is going through, I've never been in that position,'' says Orioles left fielder Craig Gentry, who is white. "I can only imagine.
"But you look at him, the way he keeps his composure, it's a true testament to who he is as a person, and how mentally tough he is. Kind of like Jackie Robinson, right?"
Yep, 70 years ago, in a country that has seen change in race relations, but still has tremendously so far to go.
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