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BOSTON — Red Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy on Thursday underscored a goal of inclusiveness for his organization after news came out that they want Yawkey Way renamed because of Tom Yawkey’s history of bigotry.
Sox owner John Henry revealed his desire to rename the street in an interview with the Boston Herald’s Michael Silverman.
“We’ve been discussing this for over a decade internally, the conversation has come up time and time [again],” Kennedy told CSNNE on Thursday evening. “I think today what John did was send a very loud message about what he’s been saying since we arrived in 2002, which is we want Fenway to be open and inclusive and tolerant to everyone, and so it’s just a conversation we’ve been having for a while.”
As of Thursday evening, Kennedy said he had not spoken with the Yawkey Foundation or the Yawkey family. Kennedy noted that renaming the street is not exclusively a Red Sox decision and nothing has changed at this point. A public hearing is needed first, and all landowners along Yawkey Way would need to be in agreement. Per the Herald, that appears the case.
“I want to be clear it’s not an indictment on the Yawkey Foundation, the great work that goes on there,” Kennedy said. “The Red Sox need to start to engage the community and have an open conversation with our neighbors and other community stakeholders and then of course City Hall, sort of the beginning of the process.
“I’m well aware of the fantastic work that the Yawkey Foundation has done and there’s an undeniable track record of fantastic, good deeds, generosity and there’s great people that work there and have been affiliated and associated with it. This is in no way a reflection of anyone’s feelings toward the Yawkey Foundation.”
The political climate in which the Red Sox decided to take this stance, as some Confederate statues come down across the country, indeed factored into the decision, per Kennedy. But he painted the decision as part of an ongoing conversation, rather than the product of a tipping point.
“The timing I think is probably a result that, as an organization, we’ve elevated the conversation around what we can do ... with respect to making Fenway as inclusive and welcoming as possible,” Kennedy said. “Certainly the Adam Jones [incident] and the follow-up incident the next day … just the overall climate in our country right now, the conversation has been elevated and has been a sustained conversation throughout the course of the year internally, in private and in public with different community groups, community leaders, elected officials, business partners.
“So I’m really proud to work for an organization that has those types of conversations and is open to discussing em and tackling what may be perceived to be sensitive issues. So I don’t know that there is a specific reason for the timing other than John has been the leader of our organization for 16 years and it’s been a conversation he’s been engaged in and we’ve all been engaged in for some time.”
Kennedy said there was no final meeting where a decision was made internally.
If the street is renamed, what about other ties to Yawkey?
“I don’t have a list of everything Yawkey related and no one is suggesting that we wipe out or erase our past or history at all," Kennedy said. "In fact, I think it’s important to understand our history. The real issue here is, it’s symbolic and it’s something that is powerful and we have heard from many people in the community that it is something that has made folks feel uncomfortable about coming to Fenway. That’s been troubling to us. So I don’t think you’re going to see anyone trying to completely erase our history
And why not take action sooner? Already on Thursday, the discussion on social media and sports talk radio, for some, centered on pandering — and the perception that's what the Red Sox are doing.
“We’ve been here for 16 years,” Kennedy said. “You know I suppose we could have engaged in a more forceful and public way on this issue in the past, but we’ve really been focused on ways to make Fenway as inclusive and accepting as possible. We’ve focused on community outreach, building the Red Sox Foundation. Yeah, I suppose some could say, ‘Why now?’
“There’s not a specific reason for that other than the things we discussed and the sustaining and elevating the conversation around everything under our control and our sphere of influence that would make everyone feel welcome at Fenway.”
There is an MBTA station named for Yawkey near the ball park. It does not appear the Sox are making an active push for it to be renamed at this time.
"If that becomes a topic, if we're asked to weigh in on that, we will as well, we'd be supportive of exploring it," Kennedy said. "If it makes people feel uncomfortable or unwelcome, then that's something that absolutely needs to be looked at."