A few days ago practically nobody knew who Yunel Escobar was as a baseball player. Now he is widely known as a jerk. Probably not the best tradeoff for the 29-year-old Toronto Blue Jays shortstop, who is currently serving a three-game suspension for displaying a message insulting to gays on his face.
The thinking process that went into Escobar’s gaff is probably equivalent to that of a high school sophomore being swept up in inane activity, but really, who needs to write messages on their eye black on their cheeks? It wasn’t as if Escobar took out a billboard to issue a slur, but it does make you wonder who was his target audience. The strips of eye black used to reduce sun glare where Escobar wrote a homophobic slur in Spanish are about a half inch wide. That means ordinarily the reader would have to get up in his face to digest the wording. Or, as it so happened, someone with a telephoto lens who took closeups of the .251 hitter while he was playing a game against the Red Sox in Toronto.
Escobar said he only scribbled his comments about 10 minutes before game time last Saturday and that he has written other messages on the eye black in the past, ones which he called “inspirational.” Blue Jays manager John Farrell confirmed that, saying he has seen Escobar write such innocuous comments as “Let’s go today.” Escobar said he acted spontaneously when he dashed off his message and meant no offense to any gay person in particular or to gays in general. It was all supposed to be a joke, he said.
“I don’t have anything against homosexuals,” Escobar said in a press conference Tuesday.
It may surprise some (or not) that Major League Baseball has rules in place banning the use of derogatory words on uniforms. Not sure if body parts are singled out, but this was deemed to come under the heading of breaking that bylaw. As Escobar publicly tried to explain his actions while accepting his three-game punishment he came off as a schoolboy taken to the principal’s office. He is being made to pay the price for the type of insensitive stunt that a kid may try in order to see what he can get away with in school. The price is a steep one, too. Escobar loses $82,000 in pay, a fine that will go to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and You Can Play organization.
There was a time not so very many years ago when MLB and the Blue Jays might have looked the other way and adopted a boys-will-be-boys outlook towards Escobar. Locker room talk can be rough, just like conversation between individuals who are close to one another, but it is supposed to remain private.
Something that is funny in the clubhouse may not be so funny when unleashed on the world at large. Not that homophobic or ethnic insults are acceptable in any locale. If somebody tells a bad joke in the locker room that can be offensive, a more mature player might step up and tell him to cease and desist. It might be a learning experience that transforms ignorance. But Escobar clearly crossed any sensible boundary when he went out in public with an insult written on his face. Appropriately, his punishment and his shame became just as public as his crime.
One hopes that a wiser player or team official still takes Escobar aside and attempts to explain that he engaged in behavior offensive to a minority group and how what he thought might be humorous was no joke to millions of other people. He gets three days off on the bench to think about it and comprehend his mistake.
For Escobar, being anonymous was better than being infamous. To some he has branded himself for life as a neanderthal and they will never forget or forgive his stupid act. The remaining fans Escobar must win back through his play and his demeanor in the coming seasons.