Most significant racial equality moments in Boston sports history


The City of Boston has a complicated history with race, and nowhere is it better reflected than in their sports teams.There have been many key moments in the struggle for racial equality that have taken place in Boston sports over the past 70-plus years. Here's a spotlight on some of the most significant ones, both the good and the bad.

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The Boston Celtics made NBA history when they selected Chuck Cooper with the 14th overall pick in the second round of the 1950 NBA Draft. Other owners tried to convince then-Celtics owner Walter A. Brown not to select Cooper, but according to George Sullivan of the New York Times, Brown rebutted by saying, "I don’t give a damn if he’s striped, plaid, or polka dot! Boston takes Chuck Cooper of Duquesne!'

Cooper averaging 6.7 points and 5.9 rebounds per game over the course of a six-season NBA career. He was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2019 for breaking the NBA's color barrier.


On Jan. 18, 1958, O'Ree made history for the Boston Bruins. He became the first Black player to play in the NHL and suited up for two games with the B's. He later returned to the squad for the 1960-1961 season and recorded 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) in 43 games.

O'Ree ended up becoming the director of youth development for the NHL's diversity task force and was inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder in 2018. The Bruins announced they would retire his number in Feb. of 2021.


Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier in 1947. Twelve long years later, the Boston Red Sox became the final pre-expansion team to integrate when they signed Pumpsie Green.

Green played for the Red Sox for four seasons, logging 327 games played, a .244 batting average, 12 homers, and 69 RBI in 742 at-bats. He played five major-league seasons in total.


On Dec. 26, 1984, the Celtics once again made NBA history by starting the NBA's first all-Black lineup in history.

With Tommy Heinsohn out due to injury, Red Auerbach decided to start Willie Naulls in his place. Naulls played alongside Bill Russell, Satch Sanders, K.C. Jones, and Sam Jones during the contest. And even the players were surprised that Auerbach elected to do that.

"Red shocked me," Sam Jones said in a recent interview. "I thought Red was going to start [John] Havlicek as the fifth man in place of Heinsohn. But Red Auerbach is just different. So there's five of us [Black starters] and I said 'my gosh man, we better win.' And we did win."

The winning didn't just end with one game. That lineup started out with 12 consecutive wins before dropping a game.


Bill Russell had nine rings as a player when Red Auerbach elected to retire ahead of the 1966-1967 season. After consulting with several former Celtics about taking on his coaching post, Auerbach settled on making Russell the first black head coach in NBA history.

At the time of his hire, Russell was famously quoted as saying: "I wasn't offered the job because I am a Negro, I was offered it because Red figured I could do it." 

And he would certainly prove his capabilities over the next three seasons.


After a playoff elimination at the hands of the 68-win Philadelphia 76ers in the 1967 playoffs, Russell's Celtics returned to glory in 1968.

With their win over the Los Angeles Lakers, Russell became the first black head coach to win an NBA title. Even more impressive, Russell did it as a player/coach, a role he held for his final three seasons in Boston.

During his stint as the Celtics head coach, Russell held a 162-83 regular-season record and a 28-18 playoff record. The team took home two titles to give Russell 10 total during his career.


Of course, Russell's time with the Celtics wasn't all rings and roses. He dealt with quite a lot of racism from the Boston-area community, including in his hometown of Reading.

After Russell's family returned from a vacation over a long weekend, they found that their house had been broken into and vandalized. Racial epithets had been spray-painted on the walls. Russell's trophies had all been smashed. The burglars had even defecated in the bed.

It wasn't the only time Russell's family was subject to this behavior in Reading. As Russell's daughter Karen relayed in a 1987 editorial:

"Every time the Celtics went out on the road, vandals would come and tip over our garbage cans. My father went to the police station to complain. The police told him that raccoons were responsible, so he asked where he could apply for a gun permit. The raccoons never came back."


After P.K. Subban and the Canadiens beat the Bruins in Game 1 in double overtime during the second round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, numerous racist comments from Bruins fans filled social media apps.

The Bruins spoke out about the behavior in a statement from Cam Neely.

"The racist, classless views expressed by an ignorant group of individuals following Thursday's game via digital media are in no way a reflection of anyone associated with the Bruins organization," Neely said, per CBC news.

Then-Bruins coach Claude Julien even went as far as saying "Those people are not our fans" and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh condemned them as well.

Subban would actually come to the defense of the Bruins organization and said the following, per NESN's Mike Cole:

"What people may say on Twitter or social media is not a reflection by any means of the league or the Boston Bruins.  So whoever that is, they’ll get dealt with, but it’s completely separate from this league or the Boston Bruins organization. I know some of those players personally on that team, like I said, the fan base has been awesome, they are a great bunch of fans."


On May 1, 2017, Adam Jones and the Baltimore Orioles played a game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Jones suffered "one of the worst cases of fan abuse" of his career.

“A disrespectful fan threw a bag of peanuts at me,’’ Jones said, per USA Today's Bob Nightengale. “I was called the N-word a handful of times tonight. Thanks. Pretty awesome.’’

The Red Sox ejected the fan that threw the bag of peanuts at Jones and issued a statement rebuking the fan and saying that they have "zero tolerance for such inexcusable behavior."

Governor Charlie Baker and Mayor Marty Walsh offered condemnations of the behavior as well.


On Jan. 26, 2019, the Celtics were taking on the Golden State Warriors when a fan yelled a racial slur at Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins. The fan was escorted out of the game was given a two-year ban for his actions.

The incident was made public on March 28, 2019 and the next day, the Celtics issued a statement apologizing to Cousins and explaining the findings of their investigation. 

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