Renaming Yawkey Way: The power of sports in social justice
Amid escalating racial tension across the nation, Red Sox principal owner John Henry advocated for the renaming of Yawkey Way—the well-known Boston street outside Fenway Park named after former team owner Tom Yawkey.
While Yawkey was at the helm, the Red Sox were the last team in Major League Baseball to integrate. The team passed on the opportunity to sign Jackie Robinson two years before he joined the Dodgers and became the first African-American to play in the MLB, and then chose not to sign Willie Mays only a few years later. Though Red Sox and city officials recognize the good work being done in the name of the Yawkey Foundation, to some the name still serves as a symbol of the franchise’s racially-tainted history.
Dan Lebowitz, executive director of Northeastern’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society, applauded Henry for his action, noting that sport is a particularly influential social justice platform due to its large audience. “Sport is a ground where social statements about collective betterment need to be made, and where social movements need to have a platform,” he said.
Lebowitz noted several cases in which sport served as such a platform, from John Carlos’ Black Power salute during the 1968 Olympics to Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling during the National Anthem in 2016. Lebowitz said that while renaming Yawkey Way wouldn’t serve to erase the Red Sox’s history, it would mark an important step toward social justice. “There’s a storied history to the Red Sox, but there’s a storied history of racism there, too. This is a chance to say, ‘Let’s change that,’” he said.