Monday, September 17, 2012

What Yunel did

Anyone who follows the Toronto Blue Jays online chattering classes (tweeters, bloggers, and columnists) knows by now that the team's shortstop Yunel Escobar played in Saturday's game against the Boston Red Sox with a Spanish homophobic slur on his face. Drunk Jays Fans has got it covered here; the original photo by @James_in_TO (with commentary) is here. Suffice to say the media shitstorm is probably just getting started.

This made my Twitter feed was an interesting place today. Not to put words in anyone's mouths, but among the opinions I picked up (I'm paraphrasing here):

  • He's an idiot and should be suspended for the rest of the season.
  • He should be traded.
  • I'm ashamed to be a Blue Jays fan.
  • The entire team, including coaches and manager, are also to blame as they allowed him on the field.
  • He should apologize.
  • It was stupid, but let's not crucify him.
  • Let's reserve judgment until we know all the facts.
  • This isn't an uncommon word for Hispanics to use in a joking manner.
  • Pretty much all athletes/ballplayers are immature so what are you gonna do.
  • It's no big deal.
I'm sure a lot of these opinions are coloured quite a bit by what you thought about Yunel Escobar as a ballplayer, a person; as well as how big a fan you are of the Toronto Blue Jays.

My immediate reaction was to do some quick research on the Spanish word in question, as many were saying it doesn't translate directly to the detestable English word f****t. One presumes it may have some different connotations, but from everything I've seen, it either means "f****t", "p***y", or something like "girly-man".

My take is: he absolutely does NOT get a pass on if he should come out with an explanation that the word doesn't mean "f****t" to him; or it was just a joke; or whatever. I'm convinced it's a homophobic word, but if you're not convinced, you still have to admit it's either misogynistic, crude, insulting, or whatever. I tweeted that I'd be fine if my Blue Jays got rid of him. I mean, this is MY team - I shouldn't have to root for someone who says stuff like that.

He absolutely gets no pass from me by the fact that he's a pro athlete, and locker rooms are notorious places of immature humour and casual homophobia. Hell, exactly because he's a public figure, I'd say he has to present himself to a higher standard than the average person, not lower. The Toronto Blue Jays are owned by Rogers Communications - I'm guessing Rogers wouldn't want their cable repair technicians and cell phone salespeople to have something like that on their faces when they go to work and interact with their customers. 

Earlier this summer, Cam Janssen of the New Jersey Devils created a similar media firestorm for himself and his team when he made some stupid homophobic comments on a radio show, after getting baited by the crude hosts of the program. At the time, there was an immediate online reaction to vilify him. I may have joined in the bashing of him on Twitter, and felt quite right about doing so. Fortunately, Patrick Burke of You Can Play had a one-on-one talk with Janssen, which led to a (I think) heart-felt apology. I was immediately impressed with Burke and YCP's approach - instead of bashing, they went for engagement, education, and understanding. The casual homophobia in sports has been entrenched for a long time; it's not going to go away by insulting transgressors in public or in the media.

Those of us who believe ourselves to be forward-thinking and associate with other forward-thinking people tend to get surprised and forget how much subtle bigotry is still out there in 2012, whether it's explicit or latent; racism, sexism, homophobia, or whatever. I have to remind myself that I grew up in a place and time (Nova Scotia in the 70s/80s) which was not very culturally diverse, and those who grew up with me surely remember the sort of awful words that were used in the playgrounds and in the streets, but seemed like no big deal at the time. Indeed, who among us doesn't have a parent, uncle, or grandparent with some iffy world views? Should we not love them? We have to have some consideration for the environment they grew up in, and hope to influence where we can.

Which brings me back to our baseball-playing Cuban refugee Yunel Escobar. And I probably risk breaching a stereotype myself here, but I do know some Caribbean cultures do tend to homophobia. We don't know the environment that he grew up in. We DO know with almost 100% certainty that every pro baseball team locker room he's been a part of has probably laughed at or ignored gay jokes. So, you can understand a little that he might be DUMB about these things.

But that only gets you so far. I know my employer would fire me on the spot if I did anything close to that, and I don't face the public in my job. He and the team have a small chance to try to make this right.

So suspend him for the season; trade him; or show us you're really trying to learn something. I'd be good with any of that. But for God's sakes, don't sweep it under the rug. 

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