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Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar is shown wearing sun glare stickers with a homophobic slur, on Saturday Sept. 15, 2012. (James Greenhalgh/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar is shown wearing sun glare stickers with a homophobic slur, on Saturday Sept. 15, 2012. (James Greenhalgh/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Globe Editorial

Homophobic slur worn by Blue Jays shortstop regrettable Add to ...

It’s disgusting that a professional athlete thought it was funny or acceptable to wear a derogatory label for a group of human beings on his person during a game.

Imagine a world in which other athletes and public figures took the same liberties as the 29-year-old Yunel Escobar, the Toronto Blue Jays shortstop, who posted the message “tu ere maricon” (“you are a faggot)” in a strip of black tape he wore under his eyes during a weekend game.

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A quarterback might post a joke about blacks, Jews or women on his helmet. A hockey player might tape an ethnic slur to his skates. A politician or actor might find other body parts to adorn with demeaning statements. Wouldn’t life be a million laughs if people did that?

Actually, no. The sport or stage or political institution in which such mockery went on would be demeaned. One can only hope the Blue Jays manager John Farrell was being honest when he said no one on the team noticed what the words said. (Mr. Escobar apparently often wrote messages in small letters in his eye black. Apparently the novelty had worn off.)

What Mr. Escobar did matters because the very casualness of his joke made it seem a routine, accepted part of his world. And if it is accepted there, why not elsewhere – the schoolyard, the office.

No doubt, as Mr. Escobar said at a news conference in New York on Tuesday, he didn’t mean to hurt anyone. “I didn’t mean anything,” he said. But of course he meant something. He meant to make a joke. He didn’t think. But he didn’t think he had to think.

The Blue Jays’ instincts, in trying to make this a teachable moment, for Mr. Escobar and others, are probably sound; but it stretches credulity that Mr. Escobar, after he serves a three-game suspension, is to become a spokesman against homophobia. What has he learned? What credibility does he have? And Mr. Farrell, the manager, said he is not aware of homophobia in baseball. This teaching moment lasted all of 60 seconds.

Sport is the place where the playing field should be truly level. It should be a force for the merit principle. No one should fear being insulted or degraded for irrelevant personal characteristics. That place is truly the field of dreams, and baseball, at least in Toronto, hasn’t built it yet.

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