After writing "tu ere maricon," which translates more or less to "you are a faggot," on his eye black, Yunel Escobar was suspended by the Toronto Blue Jays for three games without pay. He apologized, and his apology left a little to be desired.
Asked who his gay friends were, Escobar said, "the person who decorates my house is gay … the person who does my hair is gay.”
The Blue Jays made the decision to split Escobar's forfeited salary between two LGBT-rights organizations: the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and You Can Play. The move was a pleasant surprise for You Can Play founder and Philadelphia Flyers scout Patrick Burke, who told me he had no advance knowledge that YCP would receive funds. Burke also weighed in on the mixed message of Escobar's apology.
"To a lot of athletes and people in society, saying, for example, 'Don't be a fag,' you ask them what they mean by that — do you mean, don't be a homosexual? And they say, 'No, I mean don't be a loser, it's just a word.' People use homophobic slurs and don't intend them to be homophobic," Burke said. "It doesn't excuse their use, it doesn't make it OK, and it doesn't mean they shouldn't be punished for it. It's this massive disconnect in athletes between their language and their beliefs."
Aaron McQuade, the director of news and field media for GLAAD, told me that, despite the awkwardness of Escobar's apology, he does believe the shortstop's contrition was genuine — as partly evidenced by Escobar's stated willingness to work with his organization. GLAAD, You Can Play, and the Blue Jays have begun to discuss the idea of doing a Spanish-language You Can Play spot.
Escobar's apology is redolent of casual homophobia, but the swiftness with which he was brought to task and You Can Play and GLAAD were brought on has to make one optimistic that these kinds of situations will become less and less common. (Perhaps some of the speed and comprehensiveness of the reaction can be attributed to the fact that this happened to a franchise based in Canada, a country that generally considers itself farther along with regard to LGBT issues than the United States.)
On that note, one thing the next athlete who makes a homophobic remark might not want to say by means of apology is "the person who decorates my house is gay... the person who does my hair is gay." Said Burke: "It's tough, because guys in this situation look for some connection to the community, and that's the best they can come up with. He ends up looking foolish. Either that, or he's really close with the guy who decorates his home."