On Saturday, Sept. 15
, Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar took a moment to neatly print a slogan he thought funny onto his eye-black before taking the field to battle the Boston Red Sox. Escobar faced 27,325 people that night, with more watching at home, proudly stating to the world, "Tu ere maricon." Escobar claims he didn't realize the comment, which translates roughly to "You are a faggot," could be construed as homophobic. "It's a word without meaning, the way we use it," Escobar told
The New York Times
through a translator. "I have friends who are gay. The person who decorates my house is gay, the person who cuts my hair is gay. I have various friends who are gay. Honestly, they haven't felt as offended about this."
Despite the fact that Escobar's hair stylist and decorator were unoffended, the Blue Jays suspended Escobar for three games. They'll donate the roughly $92,000 he'd have earned to charities, including the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, but considering the public relations hit the Blue Jays have taken, coupled with Escobar's fading bat, they'll look for him to exit Toronto in a cheap trade this off-season. The damage has been done; Escobar's poor choice in war paint has given the sporting world a black eye.
The week before this went down, the sports press was lauding the noble stand made for marriage equality by Ravens All-Pro special teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo. It seemed a sweet change in the locker room air for an athlete steeped in the last bastion of unfettered Y chromosomes to speak bravely, thoughtfully, and compassionately on basic human rights for all people, regardless of their sexual orientation. And that is the true cost of this sort of foolishness: a single careless and cruel phrase written on a strip of tape seems to carry more weight than decades of progress. Even the publicity gained by Ayanbadejo's pro-marriage equality stance was dependent on hate. Though Ayanbadejo has been advocating for equality since 2009 and recorded a video in support of Maryland's Marriage Equality Bill in 2011, it wasn't until Del. Emmett C. Burns Jr.'s hate-fueled attempt to stifle Ayanbadejo's First Amendment rights that Ayanbadejo's support gained national attention.
If you're following the news, it seems like the bad guys are winning. Sure, the leagues seem to be on board, levying stiff fines and suspensions whenever players or coaches hurl out these hateful words, but there seems to be something in the culture that's not keeping up with the times. Many have claimed the use of such terms is a cultural holdover and devoid of homophobic meaning. They've made the moronic claim that penalizing an athlete for using these terms is itself culturally insensitive. But the fact is, all cultures, even that of the locker room, must keep up with the times. Most pro athletes would never think to spit out hate terms "nigger," "kike," or "spic," but somehow "faggot" gets a pass. Beyond Escobar's offensive makeup, Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers was fined $100,000 for calling a referee a "fucking faggot" last April; Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah was fined $50,000 for saying "fuck you, faggot" to a fan during a playoff game in Miami; and, more recently, New York Knick Amare Stoudemire called a fan "fag" on Twitter. Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen has come out in support of Escobar, but he also wisely praised Fidel Castro in a press conference in Miami, so I think we can pretty safely ignore anything he says for the rest of his life.
These shameful instances of compassionless speech paint athletes with a broad brush. The fact is that they are anomalies and becoming more so daily. Ayanbadejo's statements have been followed by similar comments of support for gay players from dozens of current and former NFL stars, including the Players Association president and former Raven's cornerback Dominique Foxworth, retired All-Pros Jevon Kearse and Eddie George, and the Washington Redskins' sensational rookie quarterback, Robert Griffin III. Last season Baltimore Orioles Jake Arrieta, Jason Berken, Zach Britton, Kevin Gregg, and Michael Gonzalez made an It Gets Better anti-bullying video. Ten other major league baseball clubs have made similar videos, and the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks became the first NFL teams to follow suit.
In the last millennium, we needed larger-than-life individuals like Jackie Robinson and Hank Greenberg to force open the gates of intolerance, but this time around, it's different. Players are standing up for their conscience, their friends, their family members, and themselves. The sports world is changing rapidly to keep up with the big one around it, and very soon dodos like Escobar will go the way of that breed.