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John Henry Speaks Out Against Racism

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Liverpool’s majority owner joined with other American sports moguls to support players and stand against hate

Hertha BSC v FC Liverpool - Pre Season Friendly Photo by Matthias Kern/Bongarts/Getty Images

We have a not-insignificant American readership here at TLO. The rest of you may or may not be caught up on what’s happening in American sports.

The super short version is, athletes across the country have been kneeling during the national anthem. This continues a trend started by erstwhile NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started kneeling in order to peacefully protest against institutional racism and a lack of accountability for police officers who kill black men under dubious circumstances. It became an even bigger story when the President of the United States decided to get personally involved, and now it’s all anyone can talk about.

There’s a much more comprehensive timeline of events at the SBNation mothership. The long and short of it is that sports has become a platform for debate over racism.

Fast-forward to this weekend. John W. Henry, the majority owner of Liverpool Football Club, weighed in on the ongoing debate in an op-ed in the Boston Globe. In his capacity as owner of the Boston Red Sox, Henry announced a partnership with the heads of the other major professional sports teams in the Boston area to combat racism.

In his statement, Henry said that Americans cannot ignore what’s happening in their country any longer.

“We, like many Americans, made the mistake of thinking that our region’s and country’s less-than-stellar pasts were firmly behind us, that 21st century America was becoming a more inclusive nation committed to celebrating diversity. That is not the case. [...] We do not have the option of sitting out that conversation and, in fact, we never have. From Jackie Robinson to Bill Russell, Muhammad Ali to Tommie Smith, John Carlos, the Miami Heat in memory of Trayvon Martin, Colin Kaepernick, and those who have joined him in protesting racial injustice, sports figures cannot sit out national debates any more than others can.”

The new antiracism campaign, called “Take The Lead,” was necessitated in part by a rash of incidents of racist abuse at Fenway Park, where the Red Sox ply their trade in Major League Baseball. Two instances were singled out by Red Sox club executive Sam Kennedy; in May, a player for the Baltimore Orioles was subject to racist taunts by Red Sox fans, and the very next day the singer for the national anthem— a Kenyan woman— was similarly abused.

Henry said that individual athletes, teams, and executives have a responsibility to speak out against racism and other forms of bigotry.

“Our sports teams, our athletes, are woven into the fabric of our society. For that reason, we cannot remain silent nor still. This day represents a new beginning to that dialogue locally, leavened with honesty and determination for a future that will place us on the right side of history. [...] Our teams occupy a special place in the fabric of New England life. We have a unique platform to demonstrate what it means to be a good citizen, to take care of our neighbors, to promote inclusion. With that platform comes a responsibility to do exactly that. That’s why we are taking the lead today. We hope you will lend your voices, your energy and your commitment to this important effort.”