Red Sox radio announcer has racially insensitive moment during Wild Card game

Will Boston and the Red Sox ever be able to move past their racist legacy?

How can they, when racially insensitive incidents continue?

The latest on a long list of tasteless moments was WEEI-FM’s Sean McDonough apparently mocking San Francisco Giants President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi’s name during the radio broadcast of the American League Wild Card game at Fenway on Tuesday night.

In the fifth inning, McDonough and Will Flemming, the play-by-play man in the booth, were discussing the San Francisco Giants, for whom Flemming’s brother is a broadcaster. After Flemming brought up and carefully and correctly pronounced Zaidi’s name, McDonough responded, “Their GM’s name is ‘High Anxiety’?”

You can listen to the clip, which includes Flemming correcting McDonough, who laughs:

According to SFGate, Zaidi is the first Muslim and Asian American GM of any professional sports team in the United States.

Disappointingly but unsurprisingly, many responded to Marek’s tweet saying people are soft for taking issue with McDonough’s comment. It’s not soft to call out, correct, and educate people who make insensitive comments. Allowing them to pass by unchecked is what allows them to continue and spread.

This is far from the first time WEEI has had a scandal regarding racial insensitivity. In 2018, they held mandatory Sensitivity Training for their employees and suspended live programming after numerous incidents, including former hosts Kirk Minihane and Gerry Callahan questioning then Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones’ statement that he had been taunted with slurs during a 2017 game at Fenway. The station’s problems with race led to many notable sponsors pulling their ads.

Sean McDonough’s father Will McDonough was a famed Boston sportswriter who tried to convince the world the Red Sox did not have a racism problem

McDonough is the son of the late Will McDonough, the sportswriter and on-air reporter who had a controversial career of his own in Boston. The elder McDonough spent much of his career trying to convince people that racism did not exist within the Red Sox organization. In Howard Bryant’s book Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston, he wrote:

“McDonough did not believe the Red Sox were a racist franchise and thus would pay no future penalty for past decisions. He would not cover the story of race and the Red Sox as a story at all, but more as a fabrication created by people intent on damaging the legacy of Tom Yawkey and Joe Cronin, of whom McDonough was especially fond. More than any other reporter in the city, it would be McDonough who would deny the existence of race as a legitimate factor in assessing the club.”

“McDonough’s temper was easily inflamed by race, an illustration of impatience with a difficult topic that belied his Boston roots. He wanted the smoking gun. To Will McDonough, if the cross wasn’t burning on the lawn, racism didn’t exist.”

In 2004, Glenn Stout wrote for the Massachusetts Historical Review that McDonough was passionate about dispelling racist stories about the Red Sox:

“Although McDonough had his facts wrong , he  still scoffed at the idea that racism played any part in the history of the team. . “The only problem the Red Sox have ever had with blacks,” he said, “was finding blacks who could play. All right?”

Growing up, the younger McDonough was likely influenced – at least subconsciously – by his father’s opinions and work. However, as an adult man, he made the decision to mock a Muslim Asian-American man’s name on-air. Whether it was intended with malice or not, his words were insensitive.

Boston and the Red Sox have a long and ugly relationship with racism

In 2018, the city of Boston changed the name of one of the streets bordering Fenway Park from Yawkey Way back to its original name, Jersey Street.

As a public street, it was not up to the Red Sox to decide the name, but it was something they wholeheartedly supported. The year before, principal owner John Henry said that Yawkey’s legacy “haunted” him. More than two decades earlier, his predecessor John Harrington, then-CEO of the Red Sox, had said something nearly identical to Sports Illustrated:

“It’s [the club’s racist reputation] almost impossible to shake,” he told Sports Illustrated.  “I don’t know how to do it.  I’ve been told it will take fifty years, generations before this thing is gone.”

Yawkey was a young millionaire from the deep south who bought a struggling franchise and ballpark that had literally gone up in flames. Without him, the Red Sox might not have survived the Great Depression. Many buildings around the city still bear his surname due to his philanthropy. The juxtaposition of charity and racism is bleakly ironic, to say the least.

By many accounts, Yawkey was a virulent racist, even beyond the context of his era. He famously passed on the opportunity to have future legend Willie Mays in Red Sox uniform, as well as Robinson, two years before the Dodgers signed him. In the meantime, Yawkey hired Pinky Higgins, a man who tossed around racial slurs like baseballs, to manage the team in 1955.

Boston and the Red Sox, in particular, have a racist legacy. They were the last team in MLB to break their color barrier, 12 years after Jackie Robinson made history with the Brooklyn Dodgers. They were also the last of the Boston teams to integrate.

In 2020, former MLB star Torii Hunter spoke about the racism he endured at many ballparks, most notably Fenway. It was the reason he had a no-trade clause for Boston (and a few select teams) in his contracts throughout his career.

At the time, the Red Sox stepped up and publicly supported Hunter’s experience. It was one of the rare times that a racial issue was addressed head-on, without the veneer of PR. It felt like progress.

But racism is still quite prevalent in Boston and in this country. We see it every day online and in the real world. Whether it’s mocking on-air or physical violence, it’s all unacceptable. And minimizing it only furthers it, like the kinds of plants that flourish in darkness.

We have to be better.