Fenway Banner Message: Ambiguity is Not Your Friend

Boston is abuzz today in the wake of the huge protest banner unfurled on the iconic Fenway Park Green Monster left field wall Wednesday night. The black field with white letters spelled out, “Racism Is As American As Baseball.” The protest was peaceful, short and left many wondering just what it meant.


The fact that the banner was shown in Fenway as opposed to Yankee Stadium, Wrigley Field or Camden Yards gives it more national exposure. The Red Sox infamously were the last major league team to integrate, reportedly passing up the chances to sign Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays.

A debate is currently raging about whether Yawkee Way—the main street outside the ballpark—should be renamed due to the purported racist views of longtime team owner Thomas Yawkee. Current Red Sox ownership supports the change but others dismiss the notion Tom Yawkee was a racist.

Of course all of this takes place in the atmosphere of the events in Charlottesville and President Trump making no distinction between white supremacists chanting, “Jews will not replace us!” and “blood and soil!” and the counter protesters, one of whom was killed by a car.

The venue for the banner further reminds us of the incident earlier this season at Fenway in which Adam Jones, an outfielder with the Baltimore Orioles, claimed someone in the centerfield bleachers yelled the n-word at him.

A more traditional banner at Fenway Park that stretches from the back of the Monster seats across Landsdowne St.


(For what it’s worth, I attend anywhere from six to ten games every year, almost always sitting in the bleachers. I’ve heard jeering of opponents, sometimes humorous, sometimes nasty with the worst kind of crude and vulgar language imaginable. However, I have never heard anything even approaching racially tinged language. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. It just means I’ve never heard it).

Here’s where the banner protest goes awry. It was done in the middle of the fourth inning when the Sox were honoring a military service member. It’s one of the coolest thing the team does at home games. A decorated service member from one the branches of the armed services stands on the Red Sox (first base side) dugout and is cheered wildly by the fans. There is no evidence so far that the people with the banner meant to specifically stomp on the service member’s time to shine, but they did and that’s unfortunate.

I happen to agree with Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts who said afterward, essentially, there is a place for such messages but the ballpark, during a game, is not it.

The bigger problem with the banner was that its message was ambiguous. “Racism Is As American As Baseball” could be interpreted different ways. If the banner was hung by white supremacists at Braves Field in Atlanta, it would have a whole different meaning. Note to protesters: Ambiguity is not your friend.

The Monster seats from which it was unfurled are the most expensive seats in the park. The four protesters—two men and two women in the their 20s to early 30s—didn’t have tickets for the seats from which they hung the banner. They asked the people who did have the seats if they could sit there just during the half inning.

The patrons who unwittingly let the protesters get into position to hang the banner were veterans. “They hung it out there and all the boos came in. We said, ‘That can’t be good,’ ” fan Dave Ryan of Boston told the Boston Globe. “We’re vets. We don’t want no [bull] out there. So I asked [one of the women in the group] at least three times clearly, ‘What does the sign say?’ She wouldn’t even turn her head to look at me. I said, ‘That’s cowardly. You won’t even tell me what it says.’ ”

How the protesters got into the Monster seats section in the first place is still unknown. To get to them, one has to climb a pretty imposing set of stairs. It’s not like sneaking down from the grandstand to the box seats. So the protesters either had Monster seats tickets or the ushers were uber lax and let them sneak up there.

The protesters were ejected from the park and banned for life.

Such protests are unfortunately needed in this day and age. I consider myself socially aware and somewhat media savvy. But I go to the ballpark to cheer my team, eat a hot dog drowned in dingy, brown water and tell the opposing team’s bullpen they better get someone warming because Mookie’s about to go yard. An occasional sing-songy chanting of the opposing right fielder’s name might occur.

But perhaps it’s when we are in our most comfortable of comfort zones that messages are the most effective.