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Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar has been suspended for three games without pay for "his decision to display an unacceptable message while participating in a Major League game."
The punishment was announced in a press conference on Tuesday afternoon. Escobar made headlines on Monday when a Toronto-area photographer pointed out that Escobar had played Saturday's game with "tu ere maricon" (sic) written on his eye black strips. The message can translate to "you are a faggot," though one Spanish professor told the Toronto Star the term can be interpreted a few negative ways though not all of them come with a homophobic slant.
Presented with that way out, Escobar told reporters that the message was "just a joke" and that "maricon" is a meaningless word that's often used among Latin players. You can indeed hear the word in many major-league clubhouses without waiting long, though to write it off as a word without meaning isn't accurate. At best, it's an insult that has become so common that its derogatory nature isn't readily apparent to those who use it. ("Gay" and "retarded" are similar examples that you sometimes hear from players who predominantly speak English.)
Escobar was backed during his apology by Toronto GM Alex Anthopolous and manager John Farrell at the press conference. Both men attributed the situation to a cultural difference and Escobar's lack of understanding that what he did would be construed as offensive. The native Cuban will undergo sensitivity training and his lost salary will be donated to You Can Play and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
"I agree with the suspension. I don't have any problem with that," said an 'embarrassed' Escobar. "I'm sorry for my actions the other day. I don't have anything against homosexuals. I have friends who are gay."
Escobar also probably doesn't understand that "I have friends who are gay" isn't a defense that really works anymore. But like Anthopolous said, education is key in making sure Latin players know that gay slurs — intentional or not — don't fly on the field in a Major League Baseball game.
Here's what Bud Selig had to say in a statement about the situation:
"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. 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."
As a positive aside, it would seem that Selig and Major League Baseball have made some strides in their stance against homophobia since then-White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen was only fined and sent to sensitivity classes after he went on a vitriolic rant against Jay Mariotti in 2006, calling the controversial writer a "[bleeping] fag." Three games isn't a lot of time, but Escobar will be forced to think about what he's done while a strong message is sent to the league's other players: Homophobic messages aren't acceptable on or around the diamond.
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