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.

Comments (63)

  1. In my opinion, you’ve done an excellent job laying out all of the issues in a very complicated situation. I’m not a Blue Jays fan, but I am a lover of baseball who was deeply disturbed when I first saw the photo. It was comforting to see that you walked away from this afternoon’s press conference with a feeling of discomfort, because I came away feeling very much the same. I probably would have advocated for a harsher punishment, but I cannot honestly say that would have made me feel any better moving forward.

  2. “No offense.”
    -Both Yunel Escobar’s apology to the LGBT community, and his contribution to the lineup of the 2012 Blue Jays

  3. Looks like Parkes needs to come up with $92,000 and take three days off before he’ll be able to suggest an appropriate punishment.

  4. I hope if homophobic and anti gay Presidential and VP candidates Romney and Ryan get elected to lead the United States of America there is the same amount of outrage as we are seeing over Yunel Gate. Quite frankly I don’t expect it though, because its easier/lazier to rail at some unintelligent baseball player stupidly writes a slur in his eyeblack which in the big picture doesn’t actually effect anything then it is to rage about the fact that potentially the leaders of the Free World will implement policy and laws that are homophobic and anti gay because, yup that’s how stupid society is. Didn’t see any of you guys raging about Tim Thomas and the whole Chick-fil-A situation 2 months ago. I guess if its in the guise of Christianity and family values propaganda, actually anti gay policy and actions are fine, but something stupid like a slur written on a baseball player is unacceptable. Lets pick our battles people. If you are actually outraged by this Yunel incident, there are much bigger fish to fry so put some energy into changing shit that matters instead of this bull shit. Chris kluwe has been fighting for the rights of gays and lesbians for a month. Why don’t you fuckers throw some weight behind him and his cause and make of difference instead of pilling on Yunel over something so trivial.

    • In fairness, Tim Thomas is a hockey player, and this is a baseball blog. Surprisingly, the writers focus on things happening in baseball.

      • And by the same token, Chris Kluwe is a football player, so while I’m very, very supportive of him (and the other, even more outspoken guy whose name I don’t remember, because, you know, football), this doesn’t really seem like the place.

        Look, we humans are complicated creatures with plenty of room for support for some things and outrage over other things. I don’t think that having a problem with a really offensive slur — which, whatever Yunel’s intent, is a real problem that should be stamped out as completely and emphatically as reasonably possible — is making anybody forget that there’s a presidential race going on or anything.

  5. That’s probably the best piece you’ve written since all this started. I still don’t agree with everything you say but it’s easily the most measured of your comments. As I’ve said a few times already Escobar is a product of his environment more than anything else. From his communist upbringing right into the the charged environment of a pro sports clubhouse with no doubt a healthy dose of religious bigotry mixed in, the image of gays in his life couldn’t have been a good one. Obviously it doesn’t excuse his actions but I do think AA said it best when everyone in baseball can use it as a learning experience.

    Escobar made a mistake. He’s been embarrassed, and rightly so, then punished on top of that. Time to move on and take the positives that the exposure brings.

    As for the locker room issues, really it’s no different than society at large or any other workplace. Just have a look at what happened in California regarding gay marriage. Societal changes are a long process with lots of setbacks along the way. Singling out an individual clubhouse for a societal problem isn’t particularly fair especially when it’s the actions of one player drawing the attention. Of course that doesn’t mean there isn’t similar stuff going on behind closed doors but consider where you work for instance. I am sure there’s a lot of testosterone flying around Score headquarters and while I doubt things get as coarse there as they might in a pro clubhouse I am sure there are plenty of conversations about a number of topics that would be better off not being exposed for public consumption.

    • This argument really bothers me. It’s been thrown around everywhere – “This isn’t different from other workplaces”, etc. That doesn’t make it okay. That doesn’t mean this is fine. There should be an example set wherever possible to say “look, here’s an opportunity for change. Do you do this stuff too? Maybe you should also reconsider.”

      I’m not idealistic or naive enough to assume this will change Major League Baseball anytime soon. It will take decades. It will have to start from the ground. Generations will go by before this sort of thing is made better, and it may never go away. But to suggest that there should be no example made of a situation like this simply because it happens elsewhere is wrong.

      • Read what I wrote. I wasn’t giving the Jays a blanket pass I was taking issue with Parkes assertion that the Jays are some how bad for not doing more to fix a societal problem in one fell swoop by inflicting a bigger punishment. I used the example of his workplace to show that it’s a bigger issue than the Jays alone and considering he’s someone that’s used similar types of slurs in the past he shouldn’t be so quick to put the blame on single organization.

        As for an example, there certainly was one made of Escobar. Maybe not to the level the morally outraged would like. However, many people blinded by their moral outrage fail to understand that Escobar is a product of his environment. If you don’t think so then just listen to what any number of other Latino players are saying and you’ll realize it’s not so cut and dried. Again I am certainly not excusing his actions and definitely not condoning them. I believed he should have been punished and he was. That said, he made a mistake. Who among is perfect? In a way he provided an opportunity, even if it was unwittingly, for a lot of people to be educated about a subject most wouldn’t bother with. To me that’s a positive after all is said and done.

        • Completely reasonable and well articulated. I’m really sick of people raining grief from on high while most have committed far worse in the course of their lives.

  6. I agree with your comments. A three game suspensions seems like a slap on the wrist. It’s hard not to believe it was an intentional insult to the other team. I mean, is this common, writing words in your eye black? I’ve never heard of it before. So, to do so is an unusual step and was meant to be provacative.

    That said, I’m sure that this player just stupidly wrote something that other baseball players utter under their breath during the course of a game. It’s trash talking and it involves all kinds of slurs. It seems like this is endemic to professional sports and I’m not sure any reeducation efforts would change this culture.

  7. I just can’t accept the defense. “Fag” is widely used in North American culture and brushed off as well. If Lawrie had said this I’m sure he would be shit all over for it.

    • I’m actually sure of the complete opposite. Brett lawrie has been defended with vigour for any infraction he’s made so far.

      • I was referring to this website. Obviously we read different things. If Lawrie breathes the wrong way my twitter feed lights up.

  8. for someone who regularly dumps on the mainstream media for moral grandstanding, there’s quite a bit of bluster and moral grandstanding in this article and the podcast.

  9. Parkes on Andre Ethier in 07:

    “sorta looks like a f*ggoty, balding version of Tim Sylvia”

  10. Well said (both here and on the podcast). As a gay baseball fan, I think I’m okay with just leaving things at “Yunel is clearly a dumb guy,” since he does seem like he’s genuinely dumb. But I do agree that there is a larger problem in baseball that it will take years to chip away at. Making it clear that this is unacceptable behavior helps.

    Most of all, I guess I just feel for Escobar’s hardworking maricon friends, since they’re the ones who have to make Yunel and his stuff look pretty. That’s probably not a fun job.

    • I think it’s in every pro sport, at least in North America. A lot of these athletes gave up education in favour of playing time, and it shows when they open their mouths. They shower with a bunch of guys every day, so they feel they must be above suspicion and show disdain for homosexuality at all times.

      That being said, it takes a world-class knucklehead to write it on your face.

  11. Parkes, you’ve used multiple gay slurs in the pasts in your writing at DJF (a time, I’m sure, that you’d prefer to forget). Let’s assume you were put in Yunel’s spot in something like this, how would you have defended yourself to such awkward questions? I have little doubt that you would have responded in much the same way (that you didn’t mean anything by it, that you were just trying to be funny and make a joke). Did you deserve to be raked over the coals then for what was an attempt at humor? I really don’t think so. You didn’t have malicious intent or blatant bigotry in mind when you made those comments. And Yunel, judging by what we saw today, almost certainly didn’t.

    Can’t this be an opportunity for Yunel to change just as you did?

  12. Dustin Parkes, May 7, 2007:

    “A Fan’s Notes” by Frederick Exley is the thinking dude’s guide to the thinking dude, and not in the fag way either.

    “I would need a lot more convincing to accept that at some point his [how old were you in 2007 Dustin??] years in North America, Mr. Parkes didn’t become aware that such language wasn’t designed to offend.”

  13. Dustin Parkes, May 7, 2007:

    “A Fan’s Notes” by Frederick Exley is the thinking dude’s guide to the thinking dude, and not in the fag way either.

    [direct link]

    • It’s almost like Parkes might have grown and matured a bit in the last *five* years. Unthinkable, I know!

      • As I’ve pointed out on the Getting Blanked Show post today, Dustin Parkes has used that word a lot more recently than 2007. 2010 actually.

        Nevertheless, I think we should move on. He’s apologised on that thread, says he regrets it, and so forth, and good for him. This article appears more balanced than his comments on the show.

        The ‘teachable moment’ is that you can be a lot more savvy than Yunel Escobar, and still get caught doing things that you shouldn’t do, especially when you think nobody is looking. I don’t think for a moment that Dustin Parkes is homophobic. I don’t really think Yunel Escobar is, other than in the lazy, thoughtless, ignorant way of a large percentage of the global population.

        I actually think the punishment for Escobar is probably about right. He acted like a total ignorant douche, and got caught (whereas when he wrote “what a dick, eh?” on his face, nobody noticed). He’s going to have to learn, and he’s going to lose some money, and a whole load of people are not even more aware of what an idiot he is. That’s a reasonable outcome.

        Running him out of town, and not giving him the opportunity to prove he’s a better person than this, seems too much to me, just as it would be a wild overreaction to fire an intelligent, insightful, baseball commentator like Parkes for some crap he really should have known better than to post even two years ago.

    • Don’t worry, when he tries to apply for a position as a writer for a major sports mag/website, they’ll find all those homophobic posts.

  14. Not a big deal at all, many things translated can look bad. Omar Vizquel said it best. “It’s a normal expression where we come from” So any gay people can just chill and not get their panties in a bunch, literally and figuratively.

  15. The “elitist” media need to get off their high horse on this one. You are talking about a kid growing up in poverty who escaped a communist country to pursue a dream of playing a competitive professional sport. As Charles Barkley rightfully said “I am not a role model”. To expect him to say things that you approve of at all times is just unrealistic.

    Further, having gone to college in New Mexico and playing baseball, I can tell you that comments like maricon and verge are almost unilaterally generic in nature. It’s meant to be derogatory to an opponent, but its’ hispanic street slang and not meant to be homophobic.

  16. I think it is significant that this happened around a time of rookie hazing. I think the Blue Jays organization isn’t being entirely honest about the circumstances, and frankly I expected more from the organization. There using Escobar, who has proven himself a grade A douche in more than one way this season, as goat. I agree that three games isn’t nearly sufficient, and believe that it sets a pathetic standard for the organization going forward.

    Sure it can be an opportunity for Escobar to change, as much as it can be an opportunity for some to be smug, but a least make him deal with significant consequences.

    Honestly, three games, that presser and throwing money at causes is just a pile of shit from the organization. Fuck me, if this doesn’t makes the Leafs look well run.

    • Rookie hazing? What the fuck are you talking about? You’re saying the face paint was hazing the rookies from AAA? Somehow he was making the kids on the bench stare at him from the dugout with his hate paint?

      Um, really? Jesus, you’re all sorts of stupid.

      Three games is a slap on the wrist, monetarily, but what exactly are you supposed to do the guy? Fire him because he is an idiot? We wouldn’t have a team that way!

      • You’re right, how stupid of me, no connection between scrawling a homophobic slur on your face and forcing the uninitiated to wear degrading costume, trending towards the feminine. Not at all significant.

        In closing, what can you do? why do anything? Thanks for setting me straight Hentgen.

        • They already said what they’re going to do, Conspiracy Theory Bob. Three game suspension, and Escobar is sent to go talk with Gay rights groups.

          He made a dumb decision based on ignorance, they’re slapping him on the wrist and taking steps to fix the ignorance through education.

          But, no, it’s all a big conspiracy that has something to do with hazing.

          • No one said anything about a conspiracy all kinds of stupid. If anything the presser, specifically Farrell’s comments, and coverage of the fallout indicated that the Jay’s just want to minimize the controversy and not actually address the issue with any sort of consistency. You have to admit that a connection exists between Escobar’s ignorance and a clubhouse culture that finds the type of hazing the Jays do funny.

      • You said “Jesus” does that mean you hate Christians?

        I’m going to freak out on you since you didn’t have your sensitivity training!

  17. Hey Parkes, what was the punishment for this? Or did your holier than thou attitude make you delete it before being called a hypocrite?

  18. Using the word “lifestyle” is VERY homophobic, Parkes. If you’re going to write a post like this, you should at least watch a high school production of “The Laramie Project” first.

  19. Everyone when you get a chance, take a look at John Lott’s article in the National Post.

    As you can see, its not just Yunel that think’s using the word ‘maricon’ is just a standard word used in Latin American culture, but Encarnacion and Vizquel also think and BELIEVE the same thing.

    The word in direct translation does mean ‘faggot’, but when you use any Spanish word in direct translation, its meaning is usually off. Latin American culture has transformed that word so that it has multiple meanings. Being Latin American myself, I can understand why so many Latin American players are shrugging their shoulders and wondering what the big deal is of using that word. Saying it among friends isn’t meant to put down gay people, and at times as Guillen states in that article, the word’s meaning can mean something like ‘dude’ or ‘bro’.

    Spending this much time in North America, I would say Yunel’s big mistake was using the word outside the realm of his friends, and posting it on his face for the world to see. Big lapse in judgement.

    Either way, he will not stop using the word around friends, and neither will any other Latin American players for that matter. Can we stop blowing this out of proportion and get on with the game now?

    • Well said. Agreed 100%. It’s over and done with.

      When you consider that Yunel is a minority himself and probably has a much better understanding of what bigotry is than does the typical white bread, middle aged, relativeley priveledged, straight male who makes up the majority of the media now attempting to tut tut this Yunel.

      We get it, I am reasonably comfortable that he gets it and I know the Blue Jays and MLB gets it.

      Enough with the flagellation already.

  20. If you watched the presser, Yunel was asked if he had any gay friends, he didn’t come out and use it a defence. This is all way overblown. He screwed up, he’s paying for it, everyone move on.

  21. Great post – likely the best piece I’ve seen written on this whole situation yet. Clear, concise and avoiding sensationalism. Thanks!

  22. “admitting that he has a lot of gay friends, among whom he counts his hairdresser and the person who decorates his house”

    That feels like a statement a white male would say in the 40′s – “I have lots of black friends including my maid and the shoeshine boy up the street”

  23. Yet another example of the average human’s inability to separate understanding another person’s behavior from condoning it. I don’t find it condescending to say that a man growing up in a machismo-laden culture will have some macho tendencies any more than I find it condescending to say that I have a patriarchal worldview because I grew up a white man in Canada. Both are reasonably arguable. To claim, however, that I cannot be aware of and mute the effects of my “privilege” is patently unreasonable, and similarly, I imagine that Yunel, while affected by his culture, isn’t a prisoner of it, as some apologists might claim.

    This incident is troubling, emblematic of a larger problem that we can’t solve today, and so rather than burying Yunel in embarrassment, it would have sufficed to say, “Hey, Yunel. Don’t do that. Here’s why.” Of course, if this is the 20th time he’s done it and only the first time that someone hasn’t stopped him before others noticed — I saw the “Qué pinga, no?” bit already — then the message changes to “Enough is enough”, but doesn’t require public shaming.

  24. Really, I think it was a dumb thing to say and he deserved the punishment, embarassment and suspension but lets move on already.

  25. Fuck that culture shit, when you’re here you play by our rules, which includes not writing the word ‘FAG’ on your face and going on TV for four hours. Would the reaction be this ‘balanced’ if the slur was deemed racist? I doubt it (for an example please direct yourself to the actions of Liverpool striker, and all round cunt, Louis Suarez). Some things are non-negotiable and blatant homophobia is one of them. You assume he’s just an idiot that should be ‘educated’ (whatever the fuck that means) then I’m going to assume he’s a fucking bigot that torched his career and should be rightly run out of town on a rail.

  26. I wonder how Canadians would react if say a French Canadian player played soccer in say Italy and wrote in French some swear words like “tabernacle” and “Sacrament” which are Catholic rooted. And what if that player was actually good?

    Bottom line: Yunel does not hate homosexuals. He just didn’t understand the sensitivity in North America about this issue. He’s done wrong, he’s sorry. Let’s move on.

  27. This article is gay.

  28. And what about all the misogynistic undertones that characterize much of your commentary, does that leave you feeling “uncomfortable” Mr. “Punching Kitty,” it is you that has a “lack of education” and basic respect for others.

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