CNN | 6/27/2019 | Listen

What we owe David Ortiz

Updated 6:46 PM ET, Tue June 11, 2019

Editor's Note: Roxanne Jones, a founding editor of ESPN Magazine and former vice president at ESPN, has been a producer, reporter and editor at the New York Daily News and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Jones is co-author of "Say it Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete." She talks politics, sports and culture weekly on Philadelphia's 900AM WURD. The views expressed here are solely hers. Read more opinion on CNN.

(CNN) - Boston has done right by Big Papi.

David Ortiz, the beloved former Red Sox slugger, who was shot outside a nightclub in his homeland Dominican Republic, is back in Boston -- his adopted city -- so he can receive the best medical care available and recover with family and friends nearby.

Ortiz initially underwent major surgery in his native Santo Domingo to remove portions of his intestines, gallbladder and liver, doctors said. Immediately after hearing the news of the shooting, the Red Sox readied the team plane to fly Ortiz to Massachusetts General Hospital, where he underwent a second surgery Monday night.

"He is stable, awake, and resting comfortably this morning in the ICU, where he is expected to remain for the next several days," according to a team statement.

The City of Boston is praying for the man who helped bring the Red Sox their first World Series win in 86 years in 2004. And repeated that feat in 2007 and 2013. They are rallying for the guy who used his voice to inspire them to be strong and not give into fear after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.

"David Ortiz is probably the most beloved and one of the most important players in our history, leading us to multiple World Series championships, and an active member in the community," said Red Sox team president Sam Kennedy. "I would be hard-pressed to think of anyone more beloved than David."

Dominican Republic National Police reported they have arrested one suspect, Eddy Vladimir Féliz García, who was reportedly beaten by bystanders at the club after Ortiz was shot. Police are still searching for the alleged gunman.

It seems that almost daily now, Americans are questioning whether it's safe to travel to the Dominican Republic, a nation where more than a third of the population lives below the poverty line. The island, which shares a border with Haiti, is also struggling with issues of immigration and race. The government has expelled 70,000 to 80,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent over the past several years, according to Human Rights Watch. Historically they have relied on this cheap labor to work in the sugar cane plantations or fill menial jobs in the billion-dollar tourist industry.

That is the world David Ortiz comes from. He is one of the biggest stars ever to come out of Dominican Republic, a baseball-crazed nation that has sent hundreds of players to the major leagues, including stars Pedro Martinez, Vladimir Guerrero and Sammy Sosa.

His background could be exactly what helped Ortiz to shine so bright in Boston. On the way to three World Series wins, Big Papi, a powerful black man with an easy smile and a kind word for everyone, also became an unlikely hero in a city that has always been plagued by racial divisions. In 2017, reporting by the Boston Globe's "Spotlight" team explored the city's reputation as one of America's most racist cities in depth.

Whether it's the memories of the toxic school segregation protests in the 1970s, overzealous policing in black communities, or the segregation that is so visible even today in housing, university campuses and public places, I have never felt welcome in Boston.

And I'm not alone. The Globe found that a majority of people of color felt that Boston was unwelcoming to them. To quote from the report: "Here in Boston, a city known as a liberal bastion, we have deluded ourselves into believing we've made more progress than we have. Racism certainly is not as loud and violent as it once was, and the city overall is a more tolerant place. But inequities of wealth and power persist, and racist attitudes remain powerful, even if in more subtle forms. They affect what we do -- and what we don't do."

Growing up as a teen in Connecticut, my friends and I were told by our parents to avoid going there.

Our parents feared for our safety in Boston.

I still recall standing in long lines outside clubs only to be rejected after all the white patrons were admitted. Or being asked to pay in advance after ordering at restaurants. And I'll never forget driving through the city at night and seeing dozens of black men plucked off the street or out of their cars and thrown up against a wall, feet spread and roughed up by police.

That's why even a diehard Yankees fan like me is awed by the power of Big Papi. With his big bat, his smile and his decency, David Ortiz was able to unite a city and help them rise above some of their bigotry for a moment. He was a champion of the city -- but he was never afraid to confront racism when he saw it, especially if it came from the fans.

The first time I met him was at Red Sox Spring training in Florida. I was a young reporter on assignment for ESPN. I was nervous and out of my element. I'd never covered baseball as a beat reporter and I was the only woman and the only black journalist at training camp. It was Ortiz who put me at ease with just one friendly word from him, and the rest of the team fell in line and helped me with my story.

For that, I will always owe him a debt of gratitude.

Ortiz reportedly told police who responded to the shooting: "Please don't let me die, I'm a good man."

And from the outpouring of concern and well-wishes from President Obama, celebrities, athletes and fans across the globe, it's clear we all feel the same.

Gracias, Papi. Get well soon.


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