Escobar apologizes for homophobic slur, suspended for 3 games
Published Tuesday, September 18, 2012 8:29AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, September 18, 2012 9:30PM EDT
Toronto Blue Jays infielder Yunel Escobar was suspended for three games after he played a weekend home game with a homophobic slur written under his eyes.
“I’m sorry for (my) actions. It was not something I intended to be offensive,” a contrite Escobar said in Spanish at a news conference in New York City Tuesday.
“It was nothing intentional directed at anyone in particular. I have nothing against homosexuals. I have friends who are gay. I’m sorry for what happened and I can guarantee that this will not happen again in my career…I didn’t mean for this to be misinterpreted by the gay community.”
During Saturday’s game against the Boston Red Sox in Toronto, Escobar wore eye black stickers that had “Tu Ere Maricon” written on them in white letters.
The phrase has been translated as “You are a f****t.”
It seemed to go unnoticed until Jays fan and season ticket holder James Greenhalgh published a close-up image of Escobar to the photo-sharing site Flickr.
Greenhalgh was taking photos from his vantage point near the team’s dugout at the Rogers Centre.
Escobar insisted that the words scrawled on his face were meant to be a “joke” and that the word “maricon” does not carry the same weight as its English translation.
"It's something that's been said amongst Latinos, it's not something that's meant to be offensive," Escobar said through a translator. "For us, it didn't have the significance to the way it's being interpreted right now."
The word is "used often within teams" and "has no meaning," he said.
In a statement, the Blue Jays management team said the salary lost by Escobar during his suspension – about $82,000 -- will be donated to You Can Play and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
“Yunel will participate in an outreach initiative to help educate society about sensitivity and tolerance to others based on their sexual orientation,” the statement said.
"What came out through all of this is the lack of education," Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said in New York. "It's not just an issue in sports it's an issue in life ... It's clear the problem isn't going away and this is just an example of it."
Manager John Farrell said Escobar often writes messages on his eyeblack stickers, so no one paid attention to them on Saturday.
"The size of the lettering is so small that if you were to view it you'd have to be basically looking in his eyes,” he said.
In a statement, baseball commissioner Bud Selig said the Blue Jays handled the situation “appropriately and promptly.”
"Mr. Escobar has admitted that his actions were a mistake and I am hopeful he can use this unfortunate situation as an opportunity to educate himself and others that intolerance has no place in our game or society," Selig said.
Fans, community members react
Meanwhile, members of the LGBT community weren’t buying Escobar’s explanation and fans continued to scorn the player’s actions.
"The word can be interpreted as the ‘f-word’ people are talking about but it can also be a fairy or a sissy, a baby,” said gay rights activist Matthew Cutler. “In any case they're saying you're not masculine enough to play this sport."
One fan told CTV Toronto: “I think it’s totally inappropriate and it doesn’t jive with what Canadians and Torontonians are about.”
Another said: “It's really insensitive and just not right.”
Earlier Tuesday the fan who snapped the photo of Escobar, James Greenhalgh, told CTV’s Canada AM he was nervous about how the public and team would react to his photo of Escobar when he posted it online.
“When the players come in from the dugout, they see me. They know I’m that guy with the camera behind there. They will point and tip their cap at me because I am there every game,” he said.
“I guess that bond is going to be kind of broken, almost like a locker room issue. I have gone and said something. I am going to be uncomfortable in that regard.
“The other (issue) is the fans who think I am rocking the boat and just causing a stir, when I just wanted to do the right thing. I say this is wrong, let’s get the Blue Jays organization to talk about it,” he said, noting that he does not want to see Escobar punished.
“I am more concerned about other fans who may take this out on me.”
The photo caught the attention of media across North America and made the rounds on Twitter, with some fans condemning the message. Others wondered if Escobar had been the one to write it or was the victim of a prank. Others suggested alternate, yet obscure, meanings that would make the expression only slightly less of an insult.
Patrick Burke, the president of the You Can Play Project, says many athletes are not exposed to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-gendered (LGBT) community and may not understand the impact of such words.
“It was really disappointing to see,” Burke told CTV News Channel on Tuesday before Escobar apologized. “The sports world has made a lot of tremendous strides in the last four or five years in terms of being way more LGBT inclusive.
“Seeing something like this was really surprising, and extremely disappointing for us.”
Escobar is hitting .251 for the season, with 9 home runs and 49 RBIs in 132 games.
With a report from CTV Toronto's Janice Golding and files from The Canadian Press