CAMBRIDGE, MA, FRIDAY—A Boston Red Sox executive responded positively to the unanimous vote yesterday to restore Yawkey Way to its original name of Jersey Street during a panel today at the Knafel Center, saying that “[Tom] Yawkey was a symbol that Fenway wasn’t always inclusive,” due to his alleged racism.
Sam Kennedy, president and CEO of the Boston Red Sox, spoke at the Red Sox Nation: Exploring Sports and Citizenship panel. Pedro Martinez, retired former Red Sox pitcher, and Rebekah Salwasser, executive director of the Red Sox Foundation, joined him in conversation.
Shira Springer, sports and society reporter for WBUR, moderated the event held by Radcliffe Institute.
Kennedy emphasized his focus on the future when discussing the Yawkey name change. “It’s one step, and we’re committed to making Fenway for everyone,” he said.
Kennedy also discussed the Take the Lead initiative, a collaboration between five New England sports teams dedicated to combating to hate speech and racism. He explained the initiative’s creation, which began a month after Baltimore Orioles player Adam Jones reported being subjected to racial slurs at Fenway Park last May. “It’s important to handle this in the right way, the human way. Boston has a reputation. For us as an organization, it was a big wake up call,” he said to audience applause.
Salwasser spoke about the Red Sox Foundation’s programs for young people to promote inclusion, including the Red Sox Scholars and Reviving Baseball in Inner-Cities (RBI). “I believe in the power of sport, and I know the power of being able to provide to young people,” she said.
Later, Salwasser added, “As much as we can, we’re getting players into the community so young people of color can see players who look like them.”
Martinez discussed his philanthropy, as well as his experiences as an immigrant. “If I was able to do anything for the future, to help, I’d help children because I’ve been there,” he said, adding later, “Just the fact that I was coming to the United States at age 17 was a huge success. I want people to take their opportunities, and see hope.”
The packed room held an audience of around 175 animated people, who laughed and applauded throughout the event.
Martinez spoke of the responsibility of being a player and giving back to the community. “It’s not just baseball. Everything they do has a little bit of responsibility. Kids look at you as a role model. Everything they do means something to someone,” he explained.
Linda Brown, director of volunteers at the Department of Children and Families for Massachusetts, attended the panel because she is interested in civic engagement. She said, “It was great; I’m a lifetime fan. They took hard questions, and they were honest about their intentions and efforts to chip away at their bad reputation.”
Kennedy defended high ticket prices, but said there are programs intended to create equal access to games, including the Student Nine program and Tier 5 games. “We’re trying to bring in a new young people market,” he said, “We don’t want baseball to go the way of boxing or horse racing.”
Kennedy also related an anecdote from last October about hiring the Red Sox’ current manager Alex Cora: “It was unanimous that Alex was the right guy. It was a five minute interview for managerial candidate, and there was one more condition. ‘He wants a plane.’ I said, ‘What do you mean he wants a plane, planes are expensive!’” Laughter followed this statement. Cora wanted a plane to fly down to his hometown in Puerto Rico to “shine a light” on the situation after Hurricane Maria. Cora is the first minority to serve as Red Sox manager.