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Fennelly: Fans shouldn't tolerate hate speech at the ballpark

The denunciation of the racist taunts the Orioles’ Adam Jones endured at Fenway Park is a positive, but it can’t stop there.
The denunciation of the racist taunts the Orioles’ Adam Jones endured at Fenway Park is a positive, but it can’t stop there.
Published May 5, 2017

ST. PETERSBURG — There have been encouraging signs since Monday night, when Orioles outfielder Adam Jones was pelted with racial slurs at Fenway Park.

There were the apologies to Jones and condemnations of the incident, from the Red Sox to the mayor of Boston to the governor of Massachusetts to the commissioner of baseball. And there was the loud ovation that Jones received from Red Sox fans as he stepped to the plate for the first time Tuesday night.

Lastly, the Red Sox on Wednesday permanently banned from Fenway Park a man they said used a racial slur toward another fan at Tuesday's game.

Finally. We're moving on the cave people.

Now, let's keep it up.

"I'd throw them right out," said fan Randy Faas, a retired schoolteacher from Maine who lives in St. Petersburg. He attends about 30 Rays game a season. He was at the Trop on Wednesday night. He said he has never heard racial slurs used in the stands. "But I wouldn't have a problem with throwing someone out for using them. Ban them. You've got to set a precedent."

Seventy years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier, and black ballplayers are still dealing with this garbage. Of course, it goes beyond baseball. It still makes me sick that we have to share oxygen with the mouth-breathers who pollute our world. When did people get the idea that a ticket to a ball game gives them the right to bigotry?

I've been told that the Rays eject roughly 60 fans a season. Stadium ushers I spoke with told me they didn't remember many racial slurs. There is a system set up at games where Rays fans can "tattle text" complaints to a phone number.

But it starts with us. We've got to draw a line.

Before Rays game, there is a recorded message to fans — delivered by Dick Crippen — that reminds them of the rules for behavior.

First rule:

"Please practice good language and behavior."

ESPN's Buster Olney suggested there needs to be a more explicit message to fans in every stadium.

No racial slurs, anti-Semitic slurs, anti-gay slurs or you're gone, now and forever.

"I don't think we need to extend the warning," said Rick Nafe, Rays vice president for operations/facilities. "We know what abusive language is."

I still don't know how a team can keep a banned fan from sneaking back in the building.

But we can try, can't we?

It's going to take a citizen army. It's going to take fans calling out haters when they hear them. You can't stop ignorance, but you can at least get it tossed from the yard.

"It's what we can do," said Julie Alejos of Bradenton, who attended Wednesday's Rays-Marlins game with her sons, Joey, 12, and Jameson, 9. "It's disturbing. You try to raise your children to not judge. For people to use any kind of slurs, anywhere, that kind of talk, it's threatening to all of us."

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"We've got to deal with the hate," said Hipolito Cirino, 66, a retired Navy veteran and New York City transit worker who lives in Tampa. He was at Wednesday's game with his 12-year-old grandson, Miguel. "Point it out. Throw it out."

And there was Dennis Johnson, 65, who is African-American and lives in Valrico. He is also retired Navy. He moved here from Memphis.

"I've seen ignorance," Johnson said. "I've been called all the names in my life. It's degrading. It makes you think of slavery."

Will Torres, 30, from Apollo Beach, attended Wednesday's game with his 3-year-old daughter , Brianna. Torres was in the Navy, too. He served in Operation Enduring Freedom and did a tour in Afghanistan.

"One of the things I fought to defend is freedom of speech," Torres said. "I believe in it. But there is the indecent and repulsive. We should be better than that. We have to be better than that."

If you see hate, point it out. If you hear it, call it out. When it comes to that, we're in the starting lineup every day.

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.

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