At three Boston sports venues, where mostly white fans cheer mostly minority athletes, teams soon make spectators watch a video that seeks to rid them of their racism.
The public-service announcement called “Take the Lead” debuts on September 28. The anti-racist video, like the national anthem, plays before every home game of the Boston Bruins and Boston Celtics at TD Garden, Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, and New England Patriots and Revolution at Gillette Stadium starting next week. Collectively, the five teams attract over five million fans every year.
The Ad Council-type spots, featuring famous pros telling anonymous joes that racism is, well, really bad, come as a first in American professional sports. And they come in a city that boasts several firsts when it comes to race relations and sports.
The first African American player to skate in an NHL games did so for the Boston Bruins. The Boston Celtics drafted the first African American in NBA history, became the first team in NBA history to court five players, and hired the first black coach in NBA history. African Americans played on the New England Patriots from the team’s creation.
But the Boston Red Sox, the last team in the major leagues to integrate, struggles with racially-charged issues this season. A fan reported hearing a racial slur uttered by another fan in May after a Kenyan woman sang the national anthem. That same month Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones claims a spectator called him a racially-derogatory name and another threw a bag of peanuts at him.
Red Sox owner John Henry publicly presses the city of Boston to rename a section of Jersey Street that sits along the third baseline of Fenway Park that honors his predecessor, Thomas Yawkey. Though Yawkey generously donated hundreds of millions to local charities and enjoyed a reputation as a players’ owner, he integrated his team after every other major-league club did so. Though a scoreboard within the park famously bears Yawkey’s initials in morse code, Henry dares not erase those dots and dashes, at least not yet, focusing instead on forcing others to airbrush away honors to his predecessor.
Henry’s park witnessed white Black Lives Matter-inspired protestors unfurling a banner reading “Racism Is as American as Baseball” a week ago. Security escorted the demonstrators from the park. Starting next Thursday, the Fenway faithful, rather than seeing the sermonizing on a single sign during the fourth inning, play captive audience to PSA lectures on the evils of bigotry, intolerance, prejudice, and the rest.