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Fenway fandom isn't always family-friendly

Sox-Yankees rivalry earns an R rating

It was late Tuesday night, and Red Sox fans were euphoric as the Olde Towne Team pulled off a pulse-pounding 3-2 victory over the Baltimore Orioles. Now it was time to leave Fenway Park and run the gantlet that many parents have come to dread. Accompanied by his wife and two daughters, who are 12 and 10, Mark Lento of Revere hastened down Brookline Avenue toward Kenmore Square. There, impossible to avoid, was the sight -- and sound -- of a dozen street vendors hawking raunchy T-shirts.

One shirt claimed that a certain Yankee player is a word that rhymes with rich; another claimed that two Yankees stars engage in sex acts with each other. Elsewhere for sale were T-shirts that urge the entire Gotham franchise to perform an anatomically impossible feat with their 26 World Series championship rings and that dis the Yanks by using Sox reliever Keith Foulke's surname as a verb.

"It's a little too much," Lento sighed after his family had made their way through the visual and verbal blizzard. "They get carried away, especially with kids here."

As the Yankees arrive in Boston tomorrow for a three-game series, there will be a lot of lofty talk about one of the most storied rivalries in sports. But the dark side to that rivalry will also be on display, as ugly sentiments are given voice in the Fenway stands and on the streets -- increasingly, in the form of T-shirts whose messages have grown more and more explicit. For many dismayed parents, the shirts deliver an R-rated ending to what they envisioned as a G-rated day at the ballpark.

"It's disgusting. It's just unnecessary," said Dave Manzo, 50, who has been a Sox season ticketholder since 1979. "If you're walking with a 6- or 7-year-old, how do you explain it to your kid?"

That was the question on the mind of Ludovino Luna as he walked to his car with 7-year-old Jay, who had just seen his first Red Sox game. "I don't like it, the profanity," said Luna, 29, of Lynn. "You want them to learn about the rivalry; you don't want them to learn about the obscenity."

"I find it a little disturbing," said Carol Anne Fallon, 42, of Hingham, who walked amid the vendors with her sons, aged 12, 9, and 4. "It's a little raunchier than it's been in past years."

The vendors claim they're just giving the fans what they want. "Some people definitely feed off the lowbrow," said Ezra Morris, 24, a vendor on Brookline Avenue. "That feeds off a certain element in the Boston population. . . . It's probably not a positive commentary on Boston sports fans, but fans seem to eat it up."

When asked about the young children who are subjected to the sight of the shirts and the sounds of the hawkers describing their contents, Morris replied with a laugh: "I guess the kids have to hear it sometime."

The hawkers and peddlers of the raunchy T-shirts are not associated with the Red Sox. They are independent operators who are granted licenses by the state. The fee for a license to sell T-shirts is $62 per year, according to Charles Carroll, assistant deputy director of the Division of Standards, who said the state is powerless to regulate the content of the shirts. "We don't have anything to do with what's on the T-shirts," Carroll said. "With free speech being the way it is, I don't know if we can stop them from selling anything."

Lisa Timberlake, a spokeswoman for Boston's Inspectional Services Department, said the city also has no control over the content of the T-shirts as long as the vendors meet the requirements for a license. However, Timberlake said, vendors are subject to a $50 fine if they verbally use profanities in hawking the shirts -- by saying that well-worn anti-Yankees chant, for instance. A Globe reporter heard numerous hawkers use that phrase and others this week. Timberlake said code enforcement officers will be out "in full force" for this weekend's series against the Yankees.

Mike Mackan, captain of the code enforcement division of Boston's Inspectional Services Department, said enforcement officers restrict hawkers to certain areas at some distance from the ballpark, "so families have a little walking room before they're subjected to obscenities." Mackan noted that hawkers are not allowed to sell their wares until after 8 p.m.

After a family complained to the mayor's office about a T-shirt that displayed a handgun with the phrase "Killin' with Schillin'," Mackan said, officers ordered the head of a company called Sully's Tees to stop selling the shirt because it was not "appropriate" in light of the city's problems with crime. The company's website still features the shirt.

Chris Wrenn, 28, the president of Sully's Tees, noted that, along with the profane ones, his company sells "positive" shirts. But he defended the sale of a new shirt that says one Yankee star "swings both ways," a slogan surrounded by three pink baseball bats in the form of a triangle. He contended it is not meant to be taken literally or to be homophobic. "It's just one more way to give him a good ribbing," he said.

Added Wrenn: "We only sell what people want to buy. If something was too offensive to society, we wouldn't be able to sell it."

To an extent, the increasing raunchiness of the anti-Yankees garb reflects the steady movement of the line in the culture at large -- on television, on the radio, in music recordings -- when it comes to profanity. The coarseness of expression on the T-shirts may also reflect the pent-up frustration of Red Sox fans who are all too aware their team has not won a World Series since 1918, while the Yankees have won 26. In that context, vendors say, many fans are looking for what they describe as an "in your face" point of view.

"As the T-shirts have grown, so has the anti-Yankee attitude," said Nick Dube, 21, of Boston, as he hawked T-shirts on Brookline Avenue. "The raunch -- it appeals to the guys who've had a few. Our kind of guys."

Inside Fenway Park, the Red Sox have made efforts to crack down on profanity. Before each game, announcer Carl Beane urges fans to "watch their language" and mentions a hotline for fans to report "offensive or disturbing behavior."

Nevertheless, though Sox fans may bridle at the comparison, some fans report that the environment outside Yankee Stadium is more family-friendly than the environment outside Fenway Park. Paul Cullen, 51, of Newton, took his 14-year-old daughter to Yankee Stadium last week, but it was at Fenway on Monday that they encountered offensive slogans. "It would be nice not to be confronted by that," he said.

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