Why did Blue Jays' Yunel Escobar wear homophobic slur on his face?
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Blue Jays’ shortstop Yunel Escobar could face disciplinary action after photographs surfaced showing the 29-year-old Cuban on the field at Rogers Centre with a homophobic slur written under his eyes.
Escobar, who has been with the Jays since 2010, played Saturday’s game against the Boston Red Sox with the Spanish words “TU ERE MARICON” written on an eyeblack sticker, a black patch baseball players wear under their eyes to reduce the sun’s glare.
The phrase’s most common English translation is “You are a faggot.” Other translations are less explicitly homophobic, but more of an emasculating insult.
A league spokesman told the Star via email they are “looking into the matter.”
The Blue Jays released a statement late Monday night saying they do not support discrimination “nor condone the message displayed by Yunel Escobar during Saturday’s game.”
“The club takes this situation seriously and is investigating the matter.”
GM Alex Anthopoulos will address the matter with media on Tuesday in New York, the statement read, adding that they “expect” Escobar, Jays’ manager John Farrell and Spanish-speaking coach Luis Rivera to also be in attendance.
Last year Major League Baseball suspended Atlanta Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell for two weeks after McDowell made lewd gestures, perceived to be homophobic, towards fans in San Francisco.
“Conduct by people associated with MLB that shows insensitivity to others simply cannot and will not be tolerated,” said commissioner Bud Selig in a statement announcing that suspension.
Braves’ reliever John Rocker was also suspended in 2000 for a slew of homophobic, racist and xenophobic remarks he made in a Sports Illustrated article.
It’s unclear whether or not Escobar wrote the words himself, and to whom, if anyone, the message was directed.
Escobar, who has a history of wearing eyeblack with phrase written on top, did not play in Sunday’s game due to “flu-like symptoms.”
The phrase printed under Escobar’s eyes went unnoticed until Monday afternoon, when a zoomed-in photo was posted online by Jays fan and season-ticket holder James Greenhalgh.
The 37-year-old said he attends every Jays’ home game, sits near the dugout and often takes photos of players, later posting them to his Flickr account. It wasn’t until he returned home to Markham Sunday evening that he noticed the words printed under Escobar’s eyes.
When Greenhalgh read a translation he said he was “extremely disappointed.”
“I love my team, I love all the players, and Yunel is one of my favourites. He gives me a hat-tip and finger-point every game,” said Greenhalgh, who described himself as “gay-positive.”
“I was really hurt by this.”
Greenhalgh said he had reservations about even posting the photo because of how much he loves the Jays and especially Escobar, but ultimately felt he couldn’t withhold the picture.
“I think equality, especially in a huge city like Toronto, is very important. It’s important that sort of message isn’t seen as acceptable.”
Several MLB teams have taken part in the “It Gets Better” project, which is aimed at empowering lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and questioning teens and youth, who feel bullied or alone as a result of their sexual orientation or preferences.
The San Francisco Giants became the first MLB team to add their voice to the campaign last year and have since been joined by the Red Sox, Orioles, Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers, among others. The Jays, however, have not joined.
“It’s disappointing to see stuff like this,” said Patrick Burke, son of Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke. “The sports world has made such great progress in the last five years on being LGBT-inclusive.”
Burke and his father last year launched a project similar to “It Gets Better” called “You Can Play,” specifically advocating for inclusion of gay athletes.
The elder Burke has become one of the most outspoken advocates for the LGBTQ community in professional sports ever since his late-son Brendan came out as gay before his death.
Several high profile NHL players took part in the “You Can Play” campaign, including Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf and forward Joffrey Lupul.
Burke, the president of You Can Play and also a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers, said he would rather see education for Escobar than a suspension.
“My main focus is on letting Mr. Escobar know why this is so offensive,” he said. “For a lot of athletes that are not raised around the LGBT community they don’t realize why this is so offensive. They think it’s just a word … Hopefully we come out of this turning (Escobar) into an ally for the gay community instead of somebody who’s acting in this way.”
The NFL bans its players from printing any slogans on their eyeblack. The NCAA allowed the practice until 2010, after Tim Tebow drew attention for printing Bible passages on the black strips when he was the quarterback for the University of Florida.