The Toronto Blue Jays today blamed a lack of education for their team’s shortstop writing a message on his eye black that contained a derogatory term in Spanish that is hurtful to homosexuals. Given the mixed messaging and unaware utterances of stereotypes that plagued this afternoon’s press conference announcing the player’s subsequent three game suspension (which was approved by the team, Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association), it’s easy to believe that ignorance, and not blatant bigotry, was the root of Yunel Escobar’s misstep.
Two things stand out to me from today’s purposefully penitent display in front of an assembled group of media members: 1) Mr. Escobar explaining his lack of deliberation by admitting that he has a lot of gay friends, among whom he counts his hairdresser and the person who decorates his house; and 2) Mr. Escobar confessing that “maricon” is something that Latin American baseball players say all of the time, which was followed by Blue Jays manager John Farrell claiming that homophobia was not a problem in baseball’s clubhouse culture.
The fact that he would use his friendship with homosexuals, in the most stereotypical sense imaginable, as evidence to a lack of mens rea, actually goes an inadvertently great measure to prove the genuineness behind Mr. Escobar’s “I didn’t know any better” defense. Unfortunately, proving that there was no intent to insult or demean homosexuals doesn’t suddenly make everything better.
The team can’t have it both ways. The shortstop, who used a word that we were led to believe at today’s press conference isn’t out of the ordinary compared to the vocabulary of other Latin American players, can’t remain ignorant to what’s offensive while those in authority over him claim that there isn’t a problem.
The message from Alex Anthopoulos also seems to contradict what Mr. Farrell said, as the Toronto General Manager expressed a big picture viewpoint, espousing the idea that a lack of understanding and respect for different thresholds of offense is something that permeates all aspects of our culture. He labelled it a societal problem, and revealed that education was a priority for the Commissioner’s Office in setting the player’s penalty.
I’m inclined to agree with Mr. Anthopoulos that baseball clubhouses are not the one area on planet earth devoid of homophobia and insensitivity to “alternative” lifestyles. If you’re looking for further evidence of this than common sense, I would point your direction to the fact that no one in the Blue Jays clubhouse, one that has a larger Spanish-speaking presence than might be typical across the Majors, spoke up to stop Escobar from taking the field with his eye black dressed in this manner.
Given the stage that baseball is played on, this poses a problem for those of us who desire tolerance and increased awareness, but it’s a bigger problem than reforming a single ignorant shortstop. That’s why it seems wrong to call for the blood of Mr. Escobar, or even to make an example of his obvious lack of understanding, but it’s also not right to simply forgive what he did by condescendingly referring to his ethnic background or the culture in which he was raised. This is the conundrum that we face in our pursuit of acting properly and making decisions based on morality: It’s not easy.
What I worry about is whether Mr. Escobar didn’t realize that the statement posted under his eyes would cause a negative reaction on a public scale, or if he didn’t know the statement could be taken to be offensive. While I have little difficulty believing that a fine, suspension and a public apology caught him off guard, I would need a lot more convincing to accept that at some point over his last seven years in North America, if not his previous 22 in Cuba, Mr. Escobar didn’t become aware that such language wasn’t designed to offend.
Because of this, I want to suggest that the Blue Jays shortstop isn’t facing enough of a punishment for his actions, but at the same time, I’m not prepared to offer an alternative that I would believe to be appropriate. I only know what I feel, and frankly, I feel uncomfortable. And I feel as though this discomfort would remain no matter the punishment levied against Mr. Escobar. It’s a disappointment that we’re still dealing with these issues anywhere, and today just reminds us that we’re not all riding the same growth curve to understanding and practicing equality.
So how do we correct that? We become honest with ourselves, and we label things that take us away from that growth curve as wrong, and then we change our course. In holding today’s press conference, this is what the Toronto Blue Jays aimed to do today. However, in imagining that a bigger problem doesn’t exist in a locker room that allowed this to happen, they failed themselves and their fans.