By noon on Friday, before an important weekend series against the visiting Yankees, fans had already begun filtering onto the street, lining up to take tours of Fenway Park and wandering in and out of the shops.
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh supports changing the name, members of his staff said, although he declined to address the topic with reporters on Friday, saying he was focused on the demonstrations in the city planned for Saturday.
Debate exploded on local radio, however, with callers to several stations objecting to a potential name change. One man, identifying himself as “John from Quincy,” said on WGBH that changing the name was “foolish” because no one thinks about Yawkey when they go to games at Fenway.
“If you want to do something for whites and blacks,” he added, “lower the ticket prices.”
The Yawkey Foundations, a major local charity that has contributed almost half a billion dollars to causes in Boston over the years, issued a statement saying it had always been “colorblind” and was disheartened by the proposed change.
“We are honored to have the Yawkey name on so many organizations and institutions that benefit Bostonians of all races,” the statement said. “We are disheartened by any effort to embroil them in today’s political controversy.”
Sam Kennedy, the team’s president and chief executive, indicated in several news media interviews that the matter had been under discussion for some time, before the violence last week at a far-right protest in Charlottesville, Va. But, he said, recent events had “elevated the conversation.”
Yawkey owned the Red Sox for more than 40 years until his death in 1976, and the team remained in his family until it was sold to a group headed by Henry in 2002.
Proceeds from the sale have financed much of the Yawkey Foundation’s philanthropy, but Yawkey’s role in resisting integration has attracted renewed scrutiny recently in a city where a quarter of residents are black, and the long-held perception has been that it is an unwelcoming place for minorities generally — the comedian Michael Che referred to Boston earlier this year as “the most racist city I’ve ever been to” — and for black athletes specifically.
The Red Sox were the last major league team to integrate, when they promoted infielder Pumpsie Green in 1959, a dozen years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Yawkey had owned the team for more than two decades by then, and he would continue to control it for 17 more.
African-American ballplayers have spoken for years about the difficulty of playing in Boston. Just last winter, the Red Sox pitcher David Price — the team’s highest-paid player — told The Boston Globe that racial taunts were directed at him while he warmed up in the Fenway bullpen last season. And this season, Adam Jones, the center fielder for the Baltimore Orioles, said that a fan in the Fenway bleachers had yelled racial epithets at him.
City officials and Red Sox leaders apologized profusely to Jones, and he received a standing ovation from the Fenway crowd when he came to bat the next day. But the episode fed a narrative that the city and its fans — sensitive to the stain it carries — have long tried to change.
“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 multicultural, but stand for as many of the right things in our community as we can,” Henry wrote Thursday in an email to the Herald. While the makeup of the team’s roster changed long ago, Henry said he was “haunted” by the team’s complicated racial past.
Yet Henry’s mere suggestion that the team would press for the renaming of the street made the Red Sox the latest organization or figure in sports to enter the kind of polarizing political discussion that athletes and teams have long avoided.
LeBron James and Martina Navratilova, among others, have used Twitter to strongly criticize Trump’s shifting comments about the protests in Charlottesville, and another N.B.A. star, Kevin Durant, said he would skip a possible visit by the league champion Golden State Warriors to the White House because “I don’t respect who’s in office right now.”
And on Thursday, the three major professional sports franchises in Tampa, Fla., pledged to cover the cost of removing a Confederate statue in front of the old Tampa courthouse, saying the monument “does not reflect the values of our community.”
In Boston, the feelings about Yawkey, who died in 1976, are not nearly as polarizing. Tim Frost and his friend Michael Douglas, who attended an event for season-ticket holders Thursday night at Fenway, said they were in favor of the name change. “It’s not like they’re trying to erase him; it’s not like they’re taking down a statue,” said Frost, 51. “But Henry is very aware of the perception of Boston as a racist city, and that’s the last thing they want.”
Henry noted to The Herald that changing the name of Yawkey Way would require the approval of another business that shares the street. One solution, he suggested, might be to simply honor a different Red Sox figure. He even floated an idea: David Ortiz Way.