A new study originally published in the Journal of Sport Management named the Yawkey Athletics Center at Boston College as one of 18 athletic facilities in the United States with ties to “honorees with questionable racist pasts.”
The center’s namesake, Thomas Yawkey, was the former owner of the Boston Red Sox. He died in 1976, but his wife sold the team in 2002 and used the proceeds to establish the Yawkey Foundation, which has funded a variety of charities and nonprofits in New England and South Carolina.
Erected in 2005, the center houses offices, training rooms, classrooms, recruiting amenities, and a locker room for the football program. The Murray Family Function Room and the Office of Student-Athlete Academic Services is also housed in the center. The Hajjar Family Football Museum is on the first floor of the building.
The Yawkey Athletics Center cost $27 million to build. The Yawkey Foundation donated $15 million to the effort.
“The Yawkey name on the building at Boston College and other non-profits results from awards from the Yawkey Foundation. All recipients are required by agreement to bear the Yawkey name. The University remains grateful to the Yawkey Foundation for its generosity in support of Boston College,” Associate Vice President for University Communications Jack Dunn said in a statement to The Heights.
The Yawkey Foundation did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The study was led by Robert Turick, an assistant professor of sport administration at Ball State University. The study cited Yawkey under its “Racism Toward Individuals” theme, citing his refusal to recruit Black players as Major League Baseball began to integrate. According to the study, Jackie Robinson called Yawkey “one of the most bigoted guys in baseball.”
“We weren’t trying to argue that these are individuals who need to be taken off these facilities,” Turick said in an interview with The Heights. “It’s more so that using the theories that we use in the paper, which are critical race theory and systemic racism theory … if you look at the totality of these individuals, then maybe conversations need to happen.”
Turick stated that he thought if more people were aware of Yawkey and the financial arrangement the Yawkey Foundation has with BC then they could have conversations to understand the role that the building’s name plays on campus.
“A conversation should occur between the University officials, the alumni, and the campus community to figure out what they want to do,” Turick said. “We have just kind of posited in this paper that maybe a lot of people don’t know Yawkey. Boston College is a Division I athletic program that recruits nationally. So they have student-athletes coming from all over who may have no idea who Thomas Yawkey is.”
Other Atlantic Coast Conference schools that were named in the study include Georgia Tech, for the Alexander Memorial Coliseum, and University of North Carolina, for the Jerry Richardson Stadium.
Other tributes to Yawkey in Boston have been renamed in the past few years. The Red Sox successfully petitioned to rename Yawkey Street outside of Fenway Park to Jersey Street in 2018. Red Sox ownership moved to distance themselves from Yawkey, according to NPR.
Former U.S. Ambassador Walter Carrington called the street “Massachusetts’ confederate statue” at the time.
“The efforts in 2018 by current Red Sox ownership to rename a public street that had been named after former Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey, does not pertain to the recipients of Yawkey Foundation grants,” Dunn said.
In 2019, the MBTA renamed Yawkey Station to Lansdowne Station as part of its effort to name stations based on their location and surroundings.
In his statement, Dunn said that the contribution of the Yawkey Foundation has allowed the University to support student athletes and to “maintain one of the highest graduation rates in NCAA sports.”
In the most recent NCAA rankings, Boston College had the eighth-best graduation rate among Football Bowl Subdivision athletic programs. The program has consistently ranked in the top 10 in graduation rate when compared to other Football Bowl Subdivision schools.
In February of 2018, biographer Bill Nowlin published a book about Yawkey titled, Tom Yawkey–Patriarch of the Boston Red Sox, which took a different view of Yawkey.
“I never once found any evidence that Yawkey was personally racist,” Nowlin said in a 2017 interview with The Boston Globe. “Nor did interviews with several dozen Sox players, including Pumpsie Green and Reggie Smith, turn up any such a suggestion. I looked for a smoking gun, and couldn’t find one.”
Following a 2017 investigation by The Globe Spotlight Team into how Boston sports have contributed to the city’s racist reputation, the Yawkey Foundation wrote an “Open Letter to New England” titled “Setting The Record Straight.”
The letter disputes the allegations against Yawkey and cites multiple times in the 1950s when Yawkey and the Red Sox attempted to acquire a Black player or signed a Black player to a minor league deal. It also disputes the story that Yawkey yelled a racial slur at Jackie Robinson.
The Spotlight investigation cited Yawkey’s resistance to adding Black players to the roster as one factor contributing to the city’s racist sports image.
In 2018, Rev. Ray Hammond published an op-ed in the Boston Herald defending Yawkey. Hammond, a Black community activist who is also on the board at the Yawkey Foundation, wrote that it was unfair to remove Yawkey from Boston’s history on the basis of the allegations against him.
The Undergraduate Government of BC declined to comment, but a UGBC spokesperson said the organization will “continue to look into this report and will certainly take part in any discussions that might arise on campus regarding this situation.”
FACES, an anti-racism student organization, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Featured Image By Taylor Perison/Heights Archives