Blue Jays shortstop suspended after homophobic slur on eye black
Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar is shown in a game Friday night.
September 18th, 2012
11:15 AM ET

Blue Jays shortstop suspended after homophobic slur on eye black

Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar has been suspended for three games after a photo emerged from Saturday's game showing him with a Spanish homophobic slur in his eye black, the substance ballplayers put below their eyes to reduce the sun's glare.

Escobar acknowledged being the author of the message, but was reticent about the underlying meaning of the words.

"It was not something I intended to be offensive," Escobar said through a translator. "It's something I just put on the sticker on my face."

The team said it met with Escobar, Major League Baseball officials and the MLB Players Association and decided the shortstop will be suspended without pay. The salary he forfeits will be donated to the groups You Can Play and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD.)

"The Blue Jays want to reaffirm that discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated," the team said in a statement announcing the suspension.

Escobar said his actions were not intentional or directed at anyone in particular and he wanted to apologize to anyone he offended.

"I don’t have anything against homosexuals," Escobar said. "I have friends who are gay. I'd like to ask for the apology of all those who have been offended by this."

Maria Cristina Cuervo, a Spanish professor at the University of Toronto, told Toronto Star columnist Cathal Kelly on Tuesday that the word "is derogatory, but it’s not necessarily homophobic," and in some Spanish-speaking countries such as Argentina, it is more of a teasing insult.

Escobar did not say specifically what he thought the words on his eye black meant, but added the phrase was something that's "been said amongst Latinos."

"It's not something meant to be offensive," he said. "For us, it didn't have the significance to the way it's being interpreted right now. It's a word used often with teens."

When pressed further by reporters, Escobar said that the words he wrote have different meanings depending on how you say it and who you say it to. Reporters then asked what he specifically meant.

"I didn't mean to say anything with it," he said.

Escobar added he has several gay friends, including the person who decorates his house and who cuts his hair. He said those people told him they were not as offended as the larger community.

"There's a different understanding in the Latin community" about the word, he said.

Though Escobar displayed the words on his eye black during Saturday's game in Toronto against the Boston Red Sox, the incident did not gain attention until Monday when a photo of Escobar was posted on Flickr by a Blue Jays fan, identified by the Toronto Star as James Greenhalgh, a season-ticket holder who sits behind the Blue Jays dugout in Rogers Centre.

In addition to the suspension for three games and handing over his salary for that span, Escobar will also take part in an outreach initiative to help educate society about sensitivity and tolerance to others based on their sexual orientation.

Manager John Farrell said he does not think there is a problem in Major League Baseball with homophobia. Farrell also said that nobody questioned any writing on Escobar's eye black because he has done it before.

"Because it's frequently done, nobody paid attention to it," Farrell said.

Escobar said he had no problem with the suspension that was handed down.

"I feel bad," he said. "I'm embarrassed."

MLB commissioner Selig said in a press release he supported the Blue Jays' decision to suspend Escobar.

"I consistently say that Baseball is a social institution with important social responsibilities and that I expect those who represent Major League Baseball to act with the kind of respect and sensitivity that the game’s diverse fan base deserves," Selig said in a statement. "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."

The league added a non-discrimination based on sexual orientation clause to the collective bargaining agreement it signed with the players' union in November.

Last year, Atlanta Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell was suspended for two weeks without pay after he was accused of making vulgar, homophobic and threatening comments at a Giants-Braves game on April 23 in San Francisco. McDowell also was fined and told to go through sensitivity training.

"Major League Baseball is a social institution that brings people together and welcomes all individuals of different races, religions, genders, national origins and sexual orientations into its ballparks. Conduct by people associated with MLB that shows insensitivity to others simply cannot and will not be tolerated," Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement after the McDowell incident.

Escobar, 29, is from Havana, Cuba. He is a veteran of seven major league seasons, both with the Blue Jays and Atlanta Braves.

He did not play in Sunday's game in Toronto after suffering "flu-like symptoms," according to the Star report. The Blue Jays did not have a game on Monday.

The Blue Jays return to Toronto for a home game on September 27.

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Filed under: Baseball • Canada • Sports
soundoff (212 Responses)
  1. RF Burns

    Just a stupid stunt. Cut him some slack.

    September 19, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Elliot Carlin

    Typical social engineers trying to steer our athletes in the right (wrong) direction.
    Any guy out there like to interview a bunch of female soccer players in the locker-room? I'll pass. Too much testosterone

    September 19, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
  3. j williamson

    Here's hoping Escobar doesn't try this back home in Cuba – using anti-Castro slurs. Er, not a pretty outcome no doubt

    September 19, 2012 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Lynda Elaine

    everyone just needs to chill. bigger and more important things going on in the world.

    September 20, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • V.P.

      Most sensible comment of all of these post.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
  5. nokoolaidcowboy

    As a latino, this is definitely lost in translation. But so be it, someone in the club house should have pointed out to that you can't do this out in the open.

    September 20, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Javier

    I am Cuban like Escobar... And can assure you that the word under his left eye is a definite insult and NOT used lightly in our culture... He definitely knew what it meant.. In Latin America (Cuba is in the Caribbean) there is a variant of the word used casually.... This is NOT the word...

    September 22, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
  7. krehator

    Waaaaa. Free speech means FREE, without price or cost.

    September 23, 2012 at 4:13 am | Report abuse |
  8. DocReality

    Now, let's say Obama gets re-elected and we get Sharia Law. What would happen then? Well, Muslim countries enjoy executing gays so I guess a stupid sticker really pales by comparison.

    Political correctness: liberal hypocrisy's attempt to stop free speech.

    September 25, 2012 at 3:50 am | Report abuse |
  9. DGM

    I'm Puerto Rican. The word under his left eye is derogatory and insulting. He's living in Canada, playing and American sport. Yes we have free speech, but you can't go yelling "FIRE" in a crowded theater.

    @DocReality Sharia Law will never come to America regardless of who wins the presidency

    September 25, 2012 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
  10. Mike D

    I've read the comments here and understand the points many people are making, but ... why write anythnig in his eye black? And if writing a message is for some reason absolutely necessary, why not write something positive or benign, as opposed to something offensive or potentially offensive? Ball players, whether we like it or not, are role models for our children, and I would not like to see my children or their teamates show up to little league with this written in their eye black. I just think these guys should think about what they do, because kids look up to them.

    September 25, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Charlie

    Freedom of expression is what's all about, in Canada and in America. Anyone can say or express anything about gays. And I can say 'they suck'!

    September 25, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • MrComments

      As a private citizen you can, yes. BUT do you know what Contract Terms are?? Because he has a CONTRACT that he must abide by while he is EMPLOYED by the Team. Understand how things work?

      September 25, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
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