BOSTON – Major League Baseball is reviewing its security protocols in all 30 stadiums after Orioles outfielder Adam Jones complained of fans shouting racial slurs in Boston this week and other black players reacted by saying it’s a common reality when playing in several cities.
It’s not yet clear what changes might be made, but league officials are starting by figuring out how individual clubs handle fan issues and complaints.
“We have reached out to all 30 clubs to assess what their in-ballpark announcement practices are regarding fan behavior,” MLB spokesman Pat Courtney said. “We are also reviewing text message and other fan security notification policies that are operating in the event there is an incident.”
All MLB teams have a mechanism for fans to alert security to issues, but individualized ballparks mean different protocols and practices in each stadium.
In Boston, Jones complained Monday night that he heard the N-word several times, then had a fan throw peanuts toward him in the dugout. Boston Red Sox officials apologized and said that only one of 34 fans kicked out of the game was ejected for using foul language toward a player, and it wasn’t clear whether that was toward Jones. Boston police said the peanuts hit a nearby police officer and Fenway security kicked the man who threw them out before he could be identified by authorities.
Commissioner Rob Manfred quickly condemned the incidents and said the treatment would not be tolerated inside any ballpark.
But after Jones spoke out, black players around the league made it clear that what he experienced is an ongoing experience during road trips, varying by ballpark.
“Everybody knows what those cities are. It’s bad. You’ve got security guards there and people there and they just sit there and let it happen,” Braves outfielder Matt Kemp said. “That to me is just crazy.”
Kemp said the vitriol in some parks has become a talking point among the dwindling fraternity of black players.
According to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, the number of African-American or African-Canadian players dipped from 62 each of the previous four years to just 58, or 7.7 percent, on MLB’s opening day active rosters.
Dusty Baker, the Nationals manager who played 19 seasons, said Jones’ complaints weren’t surprising because he’s been targeted with racial slurs in almost every city he played in.
“Minor leagues, big leagues … from L.A. to New York, it’s more apparent in some places than other places,” Baker said.
Yankees pitcher C.C. Sabathia said he heard racial slurs from fans when he pitched for the Indians in Boston, but has never had a problem with New York, where security guards follow players out to the bullpen and maintain a visible presence.
“I don’t know what you could do. It’s easier for us because we have our security guards,” Sabathia said. “Maybe teams should travel with security guards. That’s made a huge difference since I’ve been here.”
Kemp said he spoke to security officials about a week ago about how things were getting out of hand.
“I don’t know what kind of precautions or what they’re doing to get things under control but I hope something is going to get done,” he said. “Of course the racial slurs are out of line, and that’s big, but there’s a lot of other big things happening as far as people threatening other people’s families.”
One model could be in some European soccer leagues, where clubs are held responsible for the actions of their fans. Soccer authorities have spent decades trying to eradicate racism from stadiums, with limited success. Sanctions were strengthened in 2013 after a high-profile incident in Italy saw Kevin-Prince Boateng lead his AC Milan team off a field after facing abuse from fans.
Parts of stadiums can be closed during matches after a first instance of abuse, while repeated abuse can result in fans being locked out of games completely.
Still, during a Serie A game in Italy on Sunday, Pescara player Sulley Muntari complained he was being racially abused by Cagliari supporters and the referee’s only action was to penalize Muntari for his protests and show him a second yellow card as he walked off the field — which amounted to a red card kicking him out of the game and his team’s next game. The league didn’t punish Cagliari because it said only 10 fans were hurling the abuse, despite a clear sliding scale of punishments for four years.
FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, has also given leagues the power to dock points or relegate teams for serious repeated racist incidents. Players also face a minimum 10-game ban in Europe if they racially abuse opponents.
But FIFA has been criticized for disbanding its anti-racism task force even as it prepares to take the World Cup in 2018 to Russia, where racism continues to blight matches.
Hall of Famer and Yankees senior adviser Reggie Jackson said improving security at ballparks might not be a magic wand.
“I don’t know how you control that,” he said. “You throw someone out of the stadium, you have them leave. And it would be interesting to see if fans really cheered.”