I did not grow up as a sports fan. Sports—while slightly important to my father—were not part of my childhood experience. I didn’t play them and I didn’t root for them. Nowadays, I am only a Red Sox and Patriots fan because that’s what graces my television when baseball and football are in season. And even though my husband works for the biggest sports new network in the country, I pay little attention to what happens with professional or college sports unless, of course, something happens in the world of sports that bleeds over into the realm of news. And when this happens, I get very indignant about the behavior of professional athletes. And that happened earlier this week when a story about Toronto Blue Jays shortstop, Yunel Escobar, crossed my desk.
In short, Escobar used his eye black (yes, the space on his cheekbones just below his eyes) to write a particularly hateful message during a recent game. Apparently, using his eye black for messages is a common practice for Escobar (and others I imagine) and up until this recent game, I suppose the messages have been benign. However, he has been suspended for three games (and subsequently lost approximately $80,000-$90,000 in pay) for writing “You are a faggot” in Spanish under his eyes.
The post-mortem on the incident seems short-lived—partly because Mitt Romney has dominated the news with his remarks about 47 percent of the country playing the victim card and partly because other athletes have also been behaving badly this week. The managerial and coaching staff of the Blue Jays was clearly embarrassed but also quick to pass the buck from athletics on to society as a whole. They claim to be surprised with Escobar’s actions, saying it was “out of character.” Yet, they recognize that “Baseball is a social institution with important social responsibilities” and agree that Escobar should be sanctioned for violating the norms of the institution.
Escobar himself claims ignorance, explaining his actions by saying, “It’s just something that’s been said around amongst Latinos. It’s not something that’s meant to be offensive. For us, it didn’t have the significance to the way it’s being interpreted right now.” He goes on to justify his stupidity with further stupidity. He has “gay friends” including “the person who decorates his house” and “cuts his hair.” Oh, okay. That makes MUCH more sense. The Toronto Blue Jays organization has donated the lost wages to You Can Play, an organization focused on tolerance in athletics, and Escobar says he’ll participate in an outreach initiative to “educate society about insensitivity and tolerance to others” according to the New York Times.
Here’s another idea: how about Escobar just use his position to be actually sensitive and tolerant of others in society? For the team managers and Escobar to contend that the word “faggot” has no meaning is ludicrous. It doesn’t? I think that the closeted kids in middle school or high school in this country would disagree. I surely think other closeted athletes would disagree, too. I know athletes are not perfect, but they are public figures, and like other public personas, they are subject to heightened scrutiny. Should public figures get a pass when they make poor choices first and expect an apology to excuse their bad behavior later?