The Toronto Blue Jays have suspended veteran shortstop Yunel Escobar three games without pay for using eye black containing a message that translates into a homophobic slur.
Escobar found himself in the middle of a firestorm after photos revealed that he took the field Saturday against the Boston Red Sox with an alleged epithet written in his eye black.
Reaction was immediate and harsh, with many fans - and even the odd sports writer - calling for a lengthy suspension. The Blue Jays' action was nearly as swift, as Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos met with Major League Baseball and the MLB Players' Association early Tuesday before opting to suspend Escobar for the entire New York Yankees series.
The salary he forfeits during the suspension - approximately $92,500 - will go to the You Can Play Project, a social activism cause aimed at fostering the elimination of homophobia in sports. Escobar will also serve as an advocate for gay rights with You Can Play and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation as he looks to atone for the damage caused by his ill-advised joke.
A remorseful Escobar spoke softly when addressing reporters at an afternoon news conference in New York ahead of Tuesday's game, which was ultimately rained out and rescheduled for Wednesday as part of a day-night doubleheader.
"I'm sorry for the actions of the other day," he said through a translator. "I'd like to apologize to fans of the Blue Jays, the organization ... it's not something I intended to be offensive. It was not directed at anyone in particular. I don't have anything against homosexuals, I have friends who are gay."
Escobar admitted he didn't realize the message would cause such a furor, but insisted he has learned his lesson.
"I guarantee this will not happen again in my career."
Escobar also said he is interested in meeting with Patrick Burke, president of the You Can Play Project. Both Burke and the organization sent a Twitter message during the news conference praising the Blue Jays' decision:
Don't think the @BlueJays or @MLB could have handled this any better. Combined discipline with education to ensure everyone learns from this
-- Patrick Burke (@BurkieYCP)
Very classy on the part of the Blue Jays and MLB to redirect the suspension money to help prevent future homophobic incidents.
-- You Can Play Project (@YouCanPlayTeam)
GLAAD President Herndon Graddick also credited the Blue Jays for taking action.
"Today's actions show that MLB and the Toronto Blue Jays are committed to creating an environment that all fans and families can enjoy, not a place where discriminatory language and anti-gay attitudes are accepted," Graddick said in a statement on the GLAAD website.
MLB Commissioner Bud Selig issued his own statement shortly after the news conference wrapped up, sounding satisfied that the Blue Jays had sufficiently dealt with the matter:
“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," the statement read. "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.”
Toronto Star reporter Cathal Kelly first addressed the possibility that the slur wasn't intended to be a slur at all. Kelly spoke with a University of Toronto professor who explained that the epithet actually has several meanings - several of which are much tamer than the definition being passed around:
“I would take it as, ‘You are like a girl. You’re weak,' professor Maria Cristina Cuervo said. "I don’t curse much, so I don’t know the appropriate level in English. It has to be something like ‘wuss'."
Blue Jays manager John Farrell said at a Tuesday news conference that he didn't notice the derogatory message written in Yunel Escobar's eye black.
Blue Jays manager John Farrell called the gesture "completely out of character" for Escobar, and defended himself and his players when asked why nobody said anything to Escobar about the message.
"If you look back at the number of times he has written messages on eye black ... no one paid any attention. The size of the lettering was so small, you would have to be looking right in his eyes. I didn't really pay attention to it."
Anthopoulos suggested the incident serves as an example of the disconnect that still exists in Major League Baseball between the English-speaking majority and Latin players who are struggling to adapt.
"What came out of all of this is a lack of education. It's not just an issue in spot, but it's an issue in life. It's clear the problem isn't going away and this is just an example of it. It's not getting solved today."
Anthopoulos also acknowledged that a suspension "doesn't fix the problem," but hopes the attention paid to the incident might make a difference.
"As unfortunate as this is, something good, hopefully, will come from it."