Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Kyrie Irving’s return to Boston rekindles the problem of racism

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O.K. … This is not—I repeat, this is not—a column debating or defending the history of racism in Boston. I grew up in Boston. I know—it’s bad. Bill Russell, the greatest Celtics player of all time, was on the receiving end of some abhorrent racism in the 1950s and ’60s. In 1990, Dee Brown was detained by police at gunpoint for (supposedly) resembling a robbery suspect. As recently as 2016, Marcus Smart recounted being called the n-word while driving home from a game.

Kyrie Irving’s return to Boston reignites racism issue On Thursday, Smart was asked about his experience with racism in Boston.

Arguing Boston’s status as a racist city is pointless. Advocates on either side are too entrenched. Evidence is always anecdotal. Kendrick Perkins, a Celtics center for 7 ½ seasons, says he didn’t experience racism in Boston. “I never dealt with it,” Perkins said on NBC Sports Boston. “I also came back as an opponent of the Celtics. I played there with the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Cleveland Cavaliers and still never experienced any racism.” Others will point to P.K. Subban, the Montreal Canadiens player who highlighted racist tweets from Bruins fans, or Adam Jones, the Baltimore Oriole outfielder who accused Red Sox fans of hurling racial slurs in his direction. If you believe it isn’t, well, ditto.

If you believe Boston is racist, no one can change that opinion. “Yeah, I’ve heard a couple of ,” Smart said. “It’s kind of sad and sickening. Even though it’s an opposing team, we’ve had guys on your home team that you’re saying these racial slurs and you expect us to go out here and play for you. It’s tough.”

Irving may have experienced racism in Boston. It’s worth noting, however, that when he was asked, point-blank, about it he said it never happened. In March 2019 the city was reeling from accusations from DeMarcus Cousins that a fan used racist language toward him. Irving was asked about his experience in Boston. His response: “I myself can only speak for playing here as an opponent. I’ve never heard anything like that.” It was the kind of vague response that prompted Perkins to say that, with Irving, it was “always extra.”

Every city has its share of bottom-feeding fans. I’ll admit—this is personal for me. I understand Boston’s history. But I also believe racism, like many things, is generational. The prejudices of those from the 1950s can’t simply be transferred onto the millions living there now. And Irving, after dropping that bomb, declined to cite any examples, just adding “the whole world knows it.”

Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports I’ll admit—this is personal for me. I understand Boston’s history. But I also believe racism, like many things, is generational. The prejudices of those from the 1950s can’t simply be transferred onto the millions living there now. And Irving, after dropping that bomb, declined to cite any examples, just adding “the whole world knows it.”

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