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 BaseballÂ officialsÂ 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 donâ€™t have anything against homosexuals," Escobar said. "I have friends who are gay.Â 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 itâ€™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 partÂ 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'mÂ embarrassed."
MLBÂ commissionerÂ 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 responsibilitiesÂ and that I expect those who represent Major League Baseball to act with the kind of respect and sensitivity that the gameâ€™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 hasÂ 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.
At my job, if I were to wear a piece of clothing or write something on my face that was so crude and offensive to others, I'd be immediately fired. This guy got off lightly with a three game suspension. Management should have had his bags packed and handed him a one-way ticket back to his isla preciosa.
The hate behind it is important but not sad.
So when does HBO fire Bill Maher over all his hateful speech ?
When he stops getting ratings.
HATE has no place in baseball....or any sport.
Actually hate does have a place in baseball–I hate the Yankees!!
I'm just glad it didn't say Obama/Biden!!
Whatever. Just fine him and call if a day. People are way too sensitive now-a-days. Grow a pair and suck it up.
Completely agree. Give the guy a break – he's from Cuba. He got all the communist indoctrination classes, normal there, but not all the political correctness and diversity is strength indoctrination our government shoves down our throats. In some places it is still repugnant deviant unnatural behavior that is sinful and discouraged. I get that as a baseball player you don't want to alienate any fans which is bad for business, so fine him and move on.
He should sue for being racially profiled.
What about freedom of speech?
Freedom of Speech only protects you from the government. MLB is a private organization and can hold its members accountable for what they say.
Why don't you actually read the First Amendment?
Free speech does not apply here. The team or the league does not have to condone his speech, especially while wearing the uniform. Also, Blue Jays are in Canada. Canada is not as absolute about freedom of speech. As a Canadian I wish we were. I always assumed we were until I discovered the dreadful acts of the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
It called the First Amendment .
It's called Canada. The 1st amendment doesn't apply.
Even if it wasn't in Canada, the First Amendment wouldn't apply, because the First Amendment protects us form the government infringing on our speech. Private organizations, such as MLB can do as they wish.
1st amendment is only used to keep the govenment from infringing on your ability to speak freely, did the government do anything in this case?
It's called reading... try actually READING THE FIRST AMENDMENT. Come on "IKE" just give it a try.. use a dictionary if you need one.
You do realize, Toronto is not in the United States, right, smart guy?
Canada yes... but doesn't apply here either. First Amendment only protects you from having the Gov't from stopping your speech. MLB is not the Gov't.
The word "maricon" has SO MANY different meanings in different Spanish-speaking countries! When I was TEN YEARS OLD I learned that it even means "fanny pack" in Colombia.
There's a joke in there.
for an insult? oh wow... these people work by the "burn the embassy" mentality
MLB has a standard of conduct for their players. If you violate that standard of conduct there are consequences. Period. If he wants to exercise his right to free speech, then he should get out of his contract, quit the team, and then he's free to say and do anything he wants.
Nope, but there's a hand gesture that does.
This is stupid, it's just a joke, everyone needs to take a step back and not get offended over every little thing.