In a season where it seemed everything that could have gone wrong did, Yunel Escobar gave the Toronto Blue Jays another black eye.
And now he is paying for it.
The Blue Jays shortstop, who said he never meant to be offensive when he displayed on his eye black a homophobic slur written in his native Spanish during a recent game, has been suspended for three games for his indiscretion.
Escobar will lose roughly $90,000 (U.S.) in salary and it will be donated to organizations that deal with gay and lesbian causes. He will also be required to participate in sensitivity training programs.
During a 25-minute news conference at Yankee Stadium in New York on Tuesday, Escobar apologized for what he did, saying he thought it was a joke.
He was joined by Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos and John Farrell, the team’s manager.
“It was not something I meant to be offensive,” a sombre Escobar said through an interpreter. “It was nothing intentional directed at anyone in particular.”
Escobar said he has nothing “against homosexuals” and has a number of gay friends and acquaintances. “The person who decorates my house is gay, the person who does my hair is gay.”
Anthopoulos said both Major League Baseball and the players’ association were consulted and were in agreement with the penalty.
“I think what came out through all of this is the lack of education,” the GM said. “I know it’s not just an issue in sports, it’s an issue in life.”
The incident stemmed from last Saturday’s game at Rogers Centre against the Boston Red Sox in which “Tu ere maricon” was written on his eye-black stickers.
Escobar, 29, was born in Cuba and speaks little English.
The phrase’s most common English translation is: “You are a faggot.”
It went unnoticed until several pictures were posted online Monday, clearly showing the words on the black patches some athletes wear under their eyes to reduce the sun’s glare.
“I wrote it, but I didn’t do it to make anyone feel bad or to offend anyone,” Escobar said. “I wrote it 10 minutes before I left [the clubhouse] for the game.”
It is against MLB rules for any player to display any messages during games. Escobar has been warned in the past about his eye-black messaging, but had not been fined.
Farrell was asked how it was possible such a message could go undetected by him.
“The size of the lettering is so small that if you were to view it, you’d have to be right, basically, looking into his eyes,” the manager said. “And because, mostly, the number of times that he’s written something … I really didn’t pay attention to it.”
One of the organizations that will receive some of Escobar’s forfeited salary is the Toronto-based You Can Play, a group that supports equality for gay athletes. It was was co-founded by Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke’s son, Patrick.
Patrick Burke said he spoke with the Jays about the Escobar matter, and is in agreement that educating athletes on homophobic issues is the way to go.
“The focus always has to be on education,” Burke said. “The sports world has made great strides in the last five to 10 years on becoming more LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] friendly and inclusive. Every time there’s an incident like this, it’s just a reminder that there’s a lot more work to do.”
Mary Louis Adams, a professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, whose expertise is sexuality and gender in sports, applauded the public nature in which Escobar’s transgression was handled.
“Clearly, the fact that so much attention has been paid to this, I don’t know if we would have had this 10 years ago,” she said.
Hall of Shame
Penalties for past homophobic slurs in sport have ranged from suspensions to firings and a $100,000 fine:
December of 1999: New York Mets reliever John Rocker suspended 28 games (eventually cut in half) for homophobic and racist comments in an interview with Sports Illustrated.
January of 2001: Philadelphia 76ers star Allen Iverson fined $5,000 (U.S.) for retaliating to a racist slur from a fan with a homophobic comment.
December of 2006: Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Joey Porter fined $10,000 (U.S.) for homophobic comments directed toward an opposition player. Believed to be first time NFL has fined a player for making such comments.
December of 2006: Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen fined an undisclosed amount for his use of a derogatory term aimed at Chicago Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti.
February of 2007: Former NBA player Tim Hardaway lost his job as a coach in the Continental Basketball Association and was removed from official functions at the 2007 NBA all-star game for offensive comments he made about his dislike for John Amaechi, a former player who had disclosed his homosexuality after he retired from the NBA.
April of 2011: Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant fined $100,000 (U.S.) by the NBA for muttering a homophobic slur to a referee after being called for a technical foul.
May of 2011: Chicago Bulls centre Joakim Noah fined $50,000 (U.S.) for shouting an anti-gay slur at a Miami Heat fan during a playoff game.
January of 2012: Oxford United striker Lee Steele fired by the English soccer club for a tweet referring to openly gay Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas.
June of 2012: New York Knicks forward Amar’e Stoudemire fined $50,000 (U.S.) for tweeting a homophobic slur to one of his team’s fans.
June of 2012: Italian soccer star Antonio Cassano fined for saying he hopes there are no homosexual players on the national team at the European Championship.