The Boston Red Sox announced in August that they wanted Yawkey Way renamed. Their concern stems from a racist legacy left in the wake of Tom Yawkey’s ownership. As of today, a Boston Red Sox-themed Instagram page titled “bostonstrong_34” with a following of over 91,000 users posted that Red Sox President Sam Kennedy confirmed the team’s efforts to eventually change the street name. With Sam Kennedy leading the efforts to rename Yawkey Way, it’s clear that this change could come sooner than later.
In a book coming out on Yawkey titled Tom Yawkey: Patriarch of the Boston Red Sox, author Bill Nowlin explores the man that very few know or understand. In an article published by prosportsdaily.com, Nowlin stated that “I never once found any evidence that Yawkey was personally racist. Nor did interviews with several dozen Sox players, including Pumpsie Green and Reggie Smith, turn up any such a suggestion. I looked for a smoking gun, and couldn’t find one.” That doesn’t mean he was without flaws. In an e-mail message to me, Nowlin elaborated, “He owned 100% of the team, and on 24 hours’ notice he could have ensured the Red Sox had an African American ballplayer. The facts show that the team was institutionally racist up until at least 1959 – though it’s also only fair to note that so was every newspaper in Boston, and many other institutions as well.”
I recently discussed this topic in an earlier post. I wrote that the Yawkey Way name should stay in place. While Tom Yawkey owned the Red Sox when they became the last team to integrate, I don’t believe Yawkey himself was a true racist. Of course, this does not excuse him from any blame or responsibility for the team’s legacy under his ownership. While Tom Yawkey wasn’t exactly a Civil Rights Leader, he wasn’t a racist. So while Yawkey bears the responsibility for the team’s racist history during his tenure as owner, it’s difficult to place him at the same level as the KKK as many are insinuating. With Sam Kennedy leading the charge on this move, I am disappointed because I don’t think he thought about this idea very thoroughly at all.
Sam Kennedy Leading A Dishonest And Very Flawed Effort
Yawkey wasn’t perfect; far from it. But he was also a very generous man who didn’t collect on loans he gave to his players, both black and white. To me, this suggests that he may have evolved in his views on race for the better.
To rename Yawkey Way is to suggest that people can’t change. What’s the point of educating others about the dangers of bigotry if we don’t recognize the effect it has? Do we continue to call someone a racist even if they eventually changed their views? What do the stories about how generous Yawkey was towards players say about him? It certainly doesn’t excuse him from any responsibility regarding the team’s stance on integration before 1959. But it’s also not a good excuse to rename Yawkey Way.
Kennedy wants to rename Yawkey Way for the wrong reasons. He wants a scapegoat that he thinks will alleviate the focus on the Red Sox messy record on integration. He is also exploiting a very serious issue in America. He’s trying to make the team look like they care about combating bigotry in America. While I don’t doubt his sincerity, I feel he would have made this move years ago if he felt this way.