NEW YORK — The Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday announced that shortstop Yunel Escobar has been suspended from play in this week’s three-game series against the New York Yankees for displaying an anti-gay slur written on his eye black strips during last Saturday’s home game against the Boston Red Sox.
A close-up photo heavily circulated online in social media showed the words “Tu ere maricon” — Spanish for “You’re a faggot” — on the black tape.
“I apologize to the Jay’s fans and baseball fans in general. It wasn’t anything personal, it was something I always do with the stickers on my eyes,” said Escobar at a news conference Tuesday, with the assistance of an interpreter, Blue Jays first base coach Torey Lovullo.
“I regret what happened and this is something that will never happen again. It is a lesson I learned and I will never commit again. I’m sorry I didn’t want this to be misinterpreted by the gay community,” he said.
Tuesday’s decision to suspend Escobar came after a series of meetings with the Escobar and the club’s management, Major League Baseball and the MLB Players’ Association.
The salary forfeited by Escobar during his suspension — about $82,000 — will be donated to “You Can Play” and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).
Escobar, 29, will also participate in an outreach initiative to help educate society about sensitivity and tolerance to others based on their sexual orientation, and attend a sensitivity training program, in accordance with the agreement reached between him, the Blue Jays and MLB.
Despite the agreement, some Spanish-speaking people have claimed on sports talk radio and in comments left around the web on numerous sites that reported the incident, that the phrase is sometimes used, particularly by men, in a joking way, not in a literal form intended to insult.
“That word doesn’t have the same significance that we (Latinos) put into it. That’s a word we use often among players,” said Escobar, a native of Havana, Cuba.
“It was a joke between us players, it wasn’t the first time I write something on the stickers. It wasn’t directed at anybody specifically,” he said.
“It went from a joke to a big problem and I never thought it was gonna become something bad and people would take it this way. I agree with the suspension and I don’t have a problem with it.”
Escobar is not the first professional athlete to have used a homophobic slur. Canadian Broadcasting Company sportswriter Tony Care listed some of the more recent examples:
In 2011, Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant was fined $100,000 for using a derogatory gay term at a referee during a game against the San Antonio Spurs.
That same year, Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah was captured on camera throwing an anti-gay slur at a fan following a second foul in a playoff loss to the Miami Heat. He was fined $50,000 for his actions.
Also in 2011, Atlanta Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell was suspended for two weeks after using a gay slur and making crude gestures to fans in San Francisco.
And earlier this year, Houston Dynamo midfielder Colin Clark was suspended for three games with pay for uttering a gay slur at a Seattle Sounders ball boy. The offensive term was picked up by microphones for the nationally televised game.