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NSPR Responds to Crisis of the Week in the Wall Street Journal 5/15/17

Crisis of the Week: Red Sox Brush Back Racist Fans

Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones (10) throws his batting helmet during a May 3, 2017 game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.

Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones (10) throws his batting helmet during a May 3, 2017 game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. PHOTO: REUTERS/GREG M. COOPER-USA TODAY SPORTS

This is a weekly commentary by external experts.

The Boston Red Sox pro baseball team takes the crisis mound after the team was faced with fans who shouted racial epithets at an opposing player. The player, Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones, said he was called ethnic slurs and had one fan throw a bag of peanuts at him.

The Red Sox issued a statement apologizing to Mr. Jones and saying the team has “zero tolerance for such inexcusable behavior.” It said any fan who behaved in such a manner “forfeits his/her right to remain in the ballpark, and may be subject to further action.” It later said it identified a fan who used a racial slur, ejected that person from the game and told that person “they are no longer welcome at Fenway Park.”

The experts evaluate how well the team handled this situation.

Jonathan Bernstein, consultant and crisis manager: “All major league sports organizations find themselves in the position of being able to be true leaders in the area of promoting tolerance and acceptance–regardless of race, religion or politics–because of how visible their games, players and staff are, both on and off the field. It’s absolutely critical they have both strict policies and attendant enforcement to discourage negative behavior and set an example for all fans.

“The Red Sox’ response to this incident was a fine example of crisis management best practices. A humble and thorough apology was combined with a restatement of the team’s policy against such behaviors and its intent to continue to enforce them. One thing missing from its early expressions of apology, and for which the team finally made up, was a clarification that the Red Sox don’t only oppose racial slurs. As a team spokesman said: Zero tolerance ‘applies to all violations of our code of conduct. That includes forms of hate speech. It’s not just a race issue, and it does apply to a variety of other violations as well.’”

Nick Kalm, president, Reputation Partners: “The response by the Boston Red Sox was a bases-clearing triple. By quickly apologizing, denouncing the act, making it clear such behavior was ‘inexcusable’ and adding the organization was ‘sickened by the conduct,’ the Red Sox sent very clear signals such actions have no place at Fenway Park.

“The Red Sox also deserve praise for identifying the fan for further sanctions, but not publicly revealing his name. If the team had outed him, it’s possible the fan would have been subject to threats or physical violence that could have turned this sad episode into a tragic one. The lifetime ban of the fan was the right follow-up; it’s one thing to make a statement denouncing the behavior but it’s a clear jump…to take concrete and decisive action.

“As the team’s spokesman acknowledged, enforcing such a ban–when anyone can walk into a ballpark without showing ID–without impinging on everyone’s privacy rights is a challenge, but the steps he outlined were specific and credible. What could have turned the team’s response into a home run would have been if it had announced additional steps it planned to take to ensure racist or other intolerant comments would be dealt with severely. These could include new or enhanced messages on ticket stubs, signs around the ballpark–even outreach to the broader Boston area as part of the team’s community relations efforts.”

Jennifer Vickery, chief executive, National Strategies Public Relations: “This isn’t lip service by the Red Sox. The organization acted promptly and has a zero-tolerance policy in this matter. It has taken its response seriously while communicating meritoriously both publicly and on social media. The organization’s unwavering response regarding the incident was clear and points to its intolerance for such revolting behavior.

“From a PR perspective, the team sent a substantial message with its apology, game ejections, lifetime ban and credit card flagging to stop offenders from coming to future games. The organization took actionable and authentic measures to prohibit discrimination of any kind.”

Write to Ben DiPietro at ben.dipietro@wsj.com, and follow him on Twitter @BenDiPietro1.

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