David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Red Sox CEO Sam Kennedy says 'country's climate' has factored into Yawkey Way name change debate

Alex Reimer
August 18, 2017 - 8:51 am

Red Sox principal owner John Henry isn’t the only member of the team’s brass who wants to see Yawkey Way get renamed. Club president and CEO Sam Kennedy says the name doesn’t sit well with him either.

In an interview Thursday with Comcast SportsNet, Kennedy said the topic has been on his mind for a long time. “We’ve been discussing this for over a decade internally, the conversation has come up time and time [again],” Kennedy told CSN’s Evan Drellich. “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.”

Earlier Thursday, the Boston Herald published an interview with Henry, in which he said he’s “haunted” by former owner Tom Yawkey’s racist past. The Red Sox were the last team to integrate under Yawkey’s leadership, not signing an African-American until Pumpsie Green in 1959. The Red Sox passed on signing Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays.

“For me, personally, the street name has always been a consistent reminder that it is our job to ensure the Red Sox are not just multi-cultural, but stand for as many of the right things in our community as we can – particularly in our African-American community and in the Dominican community that has embraced us so fully,” Henry explained in an email to the Herald’s Michael Silverman. “The Red Sox Foundation and other organizations the Sox created such as Home Base have accomplished a lot over the last 15 years, but I am still haunted by what went on here a long time before we arrived.”

The Red Sox’ decision to speak out about Yawkey Way comes when cities across the country are debating whether to remove Confederate statues and monuments. Last weekend, white supremacists rallied in Charlottesville to protest the removal of Robert E. Lee’s statue. A counter-protester was killed when a car drove into demonstrators. 

There have also been at least two racial incidents at Fenway Park this season. In May, Orioles outfielder Adam Jones said fans were shouting racist epithets at him from the stands. The following night, the organization banned a fan for life after he used a racial slur when talking to another person in the stands. Kennedy acknowledged those events have factored into the conversation surrounding the Yawkey Way issue.

“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." 

Yawkey, who owned the Red Sox from 1933-1976, has a complicated legacy in Boston. The Yawkey Foundation, which Yawkey bequested in his will, is one of the city’s most robust charitable organizations. It’s pledged more than $350 million in community grants over the last 15 years, starting when Henry purchased the Red Sox from the Yawkey Trust in 2002.

Kennedy and Henry have both said their desire to change Yawkey Way doesn’t reflect their feelings on the Yawkey Foundation’s philanthropic work. In a statement Thursday, the Yawkey Foundation said it was "disheartened by any effort to embroil the Yawkeys in today's political controversy.”

In order to change the street name, Henry would have to petition the City of Boston for approval.  All other landowners on Yawkey Way would have to be in agreement as well. 

Henry told Silverman he would like to rename the street “David Ortiz Way” or Big Papi Way.”