Sam Kennedy on OMF: Red Sox aren't trying to smear Tom Yawkey with Yawkey Way change

Alex Reimer
April 26, 2018 - 1:08 pm

Red Sox president Sam Kennedy says restoring the name of Yawkey Way to Jersey Street doesn’t damage Tom Yawkey’s philanthropic legacy, despite his foundation’s arguments to the contrary.

The Boston Public Improvement Commission voted unanimously Thursday to scrap the Yawkey Way monicker. In a statement, the Yawkey Foundation blasted the decision as an attack on its charitable work. 

Kennedy, appearing on OMF for a contentious interview about the subject, says the Red Sox aren’t trying to defame Yawkey. Instead, Kennedy says the organization is focused on looking forward.

“This was more about clarifying a vision for the future,” Kennedy explained. “We’re focused on growing the game, expanding our fan base, and this was about relationships with people –– conversations with community leaders, our players, Red Sox alumni, and frankly, most importantly, our employees. We care deeply about our constituents, especially those who come to work at Fenway Park each and every day. As stewards of this franchise, we have an obligation to listen to our constituents, and especially our employees, to make sure we’re doing everything we can each and every day at Fenway to ensure it’s as welcoming and inclusive as possible. Frankly, it’s been a consistent refrain since 2002 that there are reminders and symbols of a time period when Fenway wasn't as inclusive as we want it to be.”

Last August, Red Sox principal owner John Henry told the Herald’s Michael Silverman he was “haunted” by Yawkey’s racist legacy. The Red Sox were the last team to integrate under his ownership, not signing an African-American player until Pumpsie Green in 1959. The team didn't employ any black person in any position up until 1958.

Kennedy insists the Red Sox aren't trying to smear Tom Yawkey, but rather move past the organization's history of racial exclusion.

"We’re not here to debate and discuss facts from the past," he said. "We’re here to talk about a path forward. This has never been about changing the name of one street. It’s a journey we’re on as an organization. We’ve made some strides since 2002. We openly and readily admit we have a long way to go in this effort. But we want to be part of positive change for the city as we move forward.

The Yawkey Foundation has donated hundreds of millions to organizations throughout the city, including communities of color. Kennedy argues there’s a stark contrast between the Yawkey Foundation’s work and its namesake’s history of racial exclusion when he owned the Red Sox. 

“We’re drawing a clear distinction between that past, and between the things that happened that were unfortunate and reprehensible with the great work that’s being done today by a foundation that is making investments in the community,” Kennedy said. “That’s an important distinction.”

Kennedy’s statements mirror comments from Walter Carrington, the former commissioner of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. After the vote, Carrington told reporters he doesn’t think the name change affects the Yawkey Foundation’s reputation. 

“That’s an argument that I never understood,” he said. “The Ford Foundation’s benefactor was a notorious anti-semite, a notorious fan of Adolf Hiter. Publicly, Henry Ford did this. That has not tainted the Ford Foundation. The Ford Foundation did not go out trying to have a campaign to sanitize the name. You look at the Rockefeller Foundatino, the Carnegie Foundation. Their benefactors were robber barons if you look at their past. That has nothing to do with the foundation. The Yawkey Foundation is doing good work, and they will continue to do it. I don’t see how in the world this would affect the way they operate.”