During a game at Fenway Park on Wednesday, a group of fans unfurled a banner at the wall in left field that read "Racism is as American as baseball"; Red Sox officials quickly took down the anti-racism sign as some in the crowd booed. It was up for just one batter in the fourth inning before umpires asked for it to be removed.
The activists may not have seen their message up long in the park, but responses are already making rounds online. The Sox went on to lose to the Oakland Athletics 7-3, but the real news of the night was definitely the sign.
The Red Sox have a long history of racism. It was the last team in the league to integrate — in 1959, long after Jackie Robinson joined the Dodgers in 1947. Even as recently as this year, Adam Jones, an Orioles center fielder, had the N-word shouted at him from the stands in Fenway Park. The Red Sox team president, Sam Kennedy, apologized personally.
But Wednesday, it was all technicalities as the team explained the decision to remove the activists and take down the banner. In a statement, the Red Sox wrote:
During the fourth inning of tonight's game, four fans unfurled a banner over the left field wall in violation of the club's policy prohibiting signs of any kind to be hung or affixed to the ballpark. The individuals involved were escorted out of Fenway Park.
The spokesperson did acknowledge that one of the activists said they were inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.
Later, in an email exchange with The Washington Post, one of the activists explained their motivation:
We are a group of white anti-racist protestors. We want to remind everyone that just as baseball is fundamental to American culture and history, so too is racism. White people need to wake up to this reality before white supremacy can truly be dismantled. We urge anyone who is interested in learning more or taking action to contact their local racial justice organization.
In part, this was a response to what happened to Jones earlier in the season.
The activists claimed not to be representing any one group, but also acknowledged that each of them had separate ties to anti-racist organizations. "We deliberately chose a platform in an attempt to reach as many people as possible," the activist wrote; their choice seems to have had the intended effect.
On Twitter, the response was fierce. There were some who seemed not to understand the message, and others who opposed the action. Wrote one Twitter user, Adam: "The people on the Green Monster were not 'fans' they were a disgrace to Boston and America."
But by and large, the strongest responses were in support of the activists. "Keep telling the truth about America, especially about its flaws. It's the truest form of patriotism that there is," Daily Beast journalist Jamil Smith wrote.
"IMHO, the "Racism is as American as Baseball" banner at Fenway is not an insult. It is uncomfortable truth we don't want to accept," another Twitter user, Roberto, added.
The very argument over its meaning was a surprise to the activists, but they also said in interviews that the confusion itself is telling. Another Twitter user, journalist Emma Baccellieri, argued that whether you see the banner as pro-racism or anti-racism could be "a new form of Rorschach test" — the ink blot tests used by psychologists.
Another post to Twitter by the Boston Antifa group seems to have been untrue. The group tried to take credit for the action, uploading a video and explaining their success. The actual organizers of the action, confirmed through pictures with the banner before the game, reiterated they were not representing any specific group.