Boston Red Sox: Why It Is Time to Stop Honoring the Yawkeys

Paul Francis Sullivan@@sullybaseballChief Writer IJuly 24, 2012

The punishment of Penn State University for their cover-up of Jerry Sandusky's history of child abuse came this Monday. The results were severe but justified. The actions that took place in Happy Valley with full knowledge of University heads needed to be dealt with and it could not be trivialized.

And the symbolic removal of co conspirator and football coach Joe Paterno's statue demonstrated that the university is taking the first steps of purging the idolization of a figure who was not the great man everyone perceived him to be.

The Boston Red Sox can follow that lead and stop honoring Tom Yawkey and his wife Jean Yawkey. The former owner and his widow turned owner have been revered figures in Boston for their love for the team and contributions to the community.

Like Paterno's good deeds, the Yawkey's positive traits were overshadowed by shortcomings on the field, and destructive and immoral acts off the field that in some cases eerily mirror the horrors of Penn State.

The Red Sox were owned by the Yawkeys or their family trust from 1933 to 2002. That would be the bulk of the supposed "Curse of the Bambino." On their watch, one of the greatest stretches of championship futility took place. All the while across town, the Celtics were pioneers in integrating the NBA and won title after title.

The charges of racism against the Yawkey family are well known and not without merit.

They passed on signing Jackie Robinson. The Red Sox had a chance to sign Willie Mays, but the scouts could not be bothered to watch him play. They kept Pinky Higgins on the payroll for years despite his public racial epithets.

They needed to be pressured into bringing their first black player, Pumpsie Green, onto the club, making them the final team to integrate. The team lost a racial discrimination suit filed by former coach Tommy Harper in 1985.

The team had a culture of being unwelcoming to any minorities well into the 1980s. That alone would be sufficient to end any hero worship for their family.

But the Yawkeys' failures on the field and in their racial attitudes were deplorable, the saga and cover up of former clubhouse manager Don Fitzpatrick's actions were downright horrific.

Fitzpatrick was employed by the Red Sox for 15 years. And, like Sandusky in Penn State, he used his position at a beloved team to surround himself with young boys and rape them.

Jeff Passan's write-up at Yahoo Sports of Fitzpatrick's years of terrorizing children is harrowing and shameful of the team that this author grew up cheering for. But most despicable, and reminiscent of the Sandusky case were that reports of abuse dated from the early 1970s through the 1980s.

As in the Penn State case, people within the organization were informed that Fitzpatrick was raping the clubhouse boys. According to Passan, at least in one instance the team fired the victim for coming forward.

Players knew to keep kids away from Fitzpatrick. Mrs. Yawkey refused to fire him. Sexual abuse of children continued on the Yawkey family watch in Boston Red Sox facilities. He left the team in 1991 just as his first accuser came forward. Mrs. Yawkey, like Paterno, took the easy way out of the controversy and died in 1992.

Fitzpatrick was charged in 2001 and pled guilty in 2002, right around the time that the Yawkey Trust was selling the ballclub.

The stench of the Yawkey family has been gone for a decade in Fenway. A mere two seasons after new ownership took over, the Red Sox won their elusive World Series then won a second three years later for good measure. The teams were integrated with African American, Latin and Asian players, unlike a Yawkey club.

And the participants in the sex scandal have long been removed from the organization. The new ownership settled the civil suits against the Yawkey Trust and immediately condemned Fitzpatrick, who died in 2005.

If there is outrage to the events regarding the Penn State Nittany Lions and a desire to remove Joe Paterno's stained legacy and monuments, then the same must be felt against the Yawkeys and the Red Sox.

Children were raped under their watch, like in Penn State. The totality of their knowledge will never be confirmed in the same manner of Louis Freeh's report about Paterno and his co-conspirators.

But there remain remnants of reverence for the Yawkeys.

One of the streets bordering Fenway Park was formerly called Jersey Street but is now Yawkey Way. Several plaques and monuments honor the Yawkey family in the stadium,and Mr. Yawkey was inducted posthumously to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

They all need to come down. No more idolization for the Yawkeys. They were not the embodiment of class and charity in Boston any more than Joe Paterno symbolized a higher ideal at Penn State.

If you want Paterno's statue down, then you must also want the street to be rechristened Jersey Street. The victims may never find true justice. But those who enable the predators need not be celebrated. They should not be in Penn State nor in Boston.