Michael Wilbon: Boston Is the Only City Where “I’ve Been Called the N-Word to My Face in Public”

The ESPN commentator is yet another victim of an all-too-common phenomenon

Michael Wilson is one of ESPN's most prominent commentators
Michael Wilson is one of ESPN's most prominent commentators
NurPhoto via Getty Images

The defining aspect of the Boston accent is the tendency to avoid and elide hard-r sounds. But, if you ask Black pro athletes, this linguistic quirk has the worst possible exception. Earlier this week, former All-Star outfielder Torii Hunter revealed that he inserted Red Sox-specific no-trade clauses into all of his contracts because of the constant racial abuse from fans at Fenway Park, which the Red Sox themselves corroborated. Yesterday, ESPN commentator Michael Wilbon said on Pardon the Interruption that he has had similar experiences in Boston. 

“The only times I’ve been called the N-word to my face in public have been in Boston Garden” Wilbon recalled. “The only time I’ve feared for my life in the streets — feared for my life — I was with David DuPree…and we were in Boston, covering a series. We wound up in South Boston, and a cab driver, a white cab driver, screeches over to the curb and said, ‘Get in, I don’t know where you guys think you are.’” 

Even beyond the deplorable treatment of Hunter and Wilbon, racism has long been endemic in the Boston fanbase. In 2019, DeMarcus Cousins said that a fan in Boston used racial slurs when he was a visiting member of the Golden State Warriors; in 2017, Adam Jones, then an outfielder for the Baltimore Orioles, alleged that fans called him the N-word and threw trash at him, behavior that CC Sabathia said all black players have come to expect at Fenway; in 2004, Barry Bonds said that the city was “too racist” and that he would never want to play for the Red Sox. Most shamefully, people broke into the home of Bill Russell, perhaps the city’s greatest athlete of all-time, and vandalized it, writing racial epithets on the wall. In fact, Russell opted to have his jersey retired in a nearly empty arena on account of how hatefully he was received by the city. 

“Boston itself was a flea market of racism,’’ Russell wrote in his autobiography. “It had all varieties, old and new, and in their most virulent form. The city had corrupt, city hall-crony racists, brick-throwing, send-’em-back-to-Africa racists, and in the university areas phony radical-chic racists. . . . Other than that, I liked the city.’’

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