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Fenway incident prompts a deeper look at racial issues in Boston sports

In this Wednesday, May 3, 2017 photo, Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones prepares to bat against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park in Boston, May 3, 2017, two days after Jones was targeted with racial slurs at Fenway. The teams play the final game of their series, one filled with player ejections and fan controversies, at Fenway Park on Thursday evening. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

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When Baltimore Orioles’ outfielder Adam Jones was the target of racial slurs at Fenway Park, the story resonated beyond sports, and required reporting that provided deeper context and meaning.

Philadelphia reporter Errin Whack has written previously about the intersection of sports, culture and race as a member of AP’s Race & Ethnicity reporting team. She was tasked with explaining why Boston is perceived, particularly among blacks, as a racist sports town – a perception that also is challenged by many others as unfair and outdated. She had to figure out a way to plainly and objectively lay out for readers where this perception came from, and the lasting effect it has on both the city and its sports teams.

And she had to get this done on a tight deadline. For her timely, layered look at this racially-charged issue, Whack receives this week’s Best of States award.

Sports writers around AP culled real-time reaction on the environment at Fenway from current players.

Whack went to work immediately with Boston reporter Kyle Hightower, who covers Boston sports, and researched team histories around racial issues. At the same time, sports writers around AP culled real-time reaction on the environment at Fenway from current players, including Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia, and dropped them in Slack. Whack located and interviewed an authority on racial inequality within organizations, a sports diversity expert, and a sociologist who is both an expert on white racial identity and a longtime Red Sox fan – the type of specialized expertise that is not always easy to reach on deadline. From those interviews a picture began to emerge: Some working-class whites typical of the Red Sox fan base turn to sports symbols to build a sense of identity as well as to vent frustrations, which can turn a place like Fenway into “a white space” where people of color “would definitely feel in the minority.”

Whack’s story chronicled the racial dynamics of sports in Boston while acknowledging the city’s past and its progress.

The result was a story,deftly edited by East assistant sports editor Oskar Garcia,that chronicled Boston’s presence in the racial dynamics of sports while acknowledging the city’s past and its progress. Newswhip showed 211 source matches on the story,including the websites of The Boston Globe and The Boston Herald. It generated about 500 Facebook/Twitter interactions in about eight hours, with nearly 200 reactions and 42 shares off of AP’s Facebook page. After the Globe posted the story on its Facebook page,a lively conversation erupted in the comment string.

For her swift,clear-eyed distillation of the history of sports and race in one of America’s oldest cities, Whack receives this week’s $300 Best of the States award.

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