Goodman: Blue Jays should set example for athletes and promote tolerance

Meredith Goodman, Columnist

Many athletes recently have adorned their eyeblack with symbolic messages, including areas codes, team logos and bible verse numbers (sported most famously by quarterback Tim Tebow). But on Sept. 15, Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar took advantage of the traditional eyeblack to flash an offensive message in Spanish. Written across Escobar’s eyeblack in a game against the Boston Red Sox was a message containing a gay slur.

Escobar, a native of Havana, Cuba, was suspended for three games and is required to attend sensitivity training following the incident. Escobar’s salary for the three games that he missed (about $83,000) will be donated to two charities that promote gay rights. He claimed to be “embarrassed” by the episode at a recent press conference.

Through an interpreter, Escobar apologized for using the slur and claimed it was a joke and not meant to be offensive. “It’s a word without meaning, the way (baseball players in clubhouses) use it,” explained Escobar. He went on to reveal that his gay friends “honestly … haven’t felt as offended.”

Escobar’s apology is inadequate and inappropriate, especially considering that his lost salary will be donated to gay rights charities. I am sure that the members of the two organizations that Escobar’s money will be directed towards, Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the You Can Play Project, which supports equal treatment for gay athletes, would not share Escobar’s view that the slur he used is “a word without meaning.”

Furthermore, Escobar and the Blue Jays’ management had a great opportunity with the press conference to promote tolerance in a sports culture that is often littered with homophobia. Instead, they allowed Escobar to give a statement downplaying his use of the slur and framing it as a meaningless joke between himself and his fellow teammates.

Escobar’s apology highlighted a sports culture that tolerates the casual use of offensive language. Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant used a gay slur towards a referee when he was frustrated with a call earlier this year, and former Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen denounced a local columnist with the same offensive language in 2006.  The homepage of the You Can Play website recognizes this ongoing issue and offers a pledge for supporters to sign that states, “Locker rooms should be safe and sports venues should be free from homophobia.”

Not a single Blue Jays player or coach stopped Escobar before he walked onto the field with his offensive eyeblack. Even the team’s general manager Alex Anthopoulos admitted that “there is a problem (with homophobia) not only in sports but … in society.” If this if the case, then why not start ending this societal problem right in the Blue Jays organization?

I would encourage Escobar and the entire Blue Jays organization to take advantage of this public exposure to shed light on gay rights and set an example for other athletes. The Blue Jays should pay a visit to their local Toronto GLAAD chapter and learn how this “word without meaning” can truly harm gays and lesbians. Perhaps they could even produce an “It Gets Better” video to support LGBT youth, like the San Francisco 49ers did. Then, maybe, the Blue Jays and the rest of the sports world can take the crucial step of banning anti-gay terms from their vocabulary and set an example for society in general.

Meredith Goodman is a Weinberg sophomore. She can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, email a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].