Football star Tim Tebow often found himself in the headlines for writing words as tame as Bible verses on his eye black. Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar should have expected to encounter such scrutiny after he wrote a gay slur in Spanish in the black paint underneath his eyes. Escobar has received a three-game suspension over the incident.
The Cuban native wrote the Spanish word on his eye black during Saturday’s Major League Baseball game against Boston in Toronto, but it wasn’t until photos of the game started spreading around the Internet over the following two days did fans begin to notice the offending word.
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In a press conference discussing the suspension held Tuesday, Escobar gave an apology but claims he meant nothing by the action. The 29-year-old shortstop, known for routinely scrawling inspirational messages on his eye black, says the word he used has absolutely no meaning to him and “was a joke,” the kind of clubhouse joke that spilled onto the field.
“It didn’t have significance to the way that’s being interpreted right now,” he said through an interpreter, according to the New York Times. “That’s not the significance that I put into it. That’s a word used often within teams. It’s a word without meaning, the way we use it.”
The ballplayer will lose about $83,000 because of the suspension — a sum that will go to the You Can Play organization to support gay and lesbian athletes. He’ll also be required to attend sensitivity training, despite offering an apology and highlighting his embarrassment of the situation.
In an attempt to rectify the situation, Escobar claimed the gay friends he has weren’t offended: “They have just a different understanding in the Latin community of this word.” Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen, also a native Spanish-speaker who hails from Venezuela, explained that the word is akin to “bro” or “dude.” “In my house, we call (each other) that word every 20 seconds,” Guillen told the Associated Press. “It’s how you say it and to who you say it.” But he — and Escobar — both seemed to respect the fact that to Spanish-speakers in the U.S., the word has offensive undertones.
The Blue Jays, for their part, seemed to be humbled by the incident. Blue Jays General Manager Alex Anthopoulos said at the press conference that he hopes the team can use the incident to change gay stereotypes in all arenas, not just sports: “As unfortunate as this is, hopefully some good will come from it.”