Earlier today it was revealed that Yunel Escobar played the full nine innings in Toronto’s 3-2 loss to the Boston Red Sox on Saturday with eye black that displayed Spanish wording which translated into a homophobic slur. The Blue Jays have since acknowledged what happened, but have tried to distance themselves from Escobar’s display.
Prior to this incident, and despite Escobar’s terrible 2012, I was willing to argue that the enigmatic shortstop should be given another chance to turn things around in Toronto. Escobar has posted a disappointing .642 OPS in 2012, but his RF/9 of 4.772 is fourth best in the Majors and shows just how valuable he is in the field. Escobar has been in the top six in this category in four of the past five seasons. Despite a strong season in 2011, Escobar is still dogged by rumours that he was a “clubhouse cancer” when he was with the Atlanta Braves, and he has displayed a noted lack of intensity and a dour attitude this season with the Blue Jays. This latest incident is perhaps more evidence that the young baseball player has a troublesome mindset.
It’s difficult to argue that Escobar had no knowledge of what he was wearing under his eyes, although it is possible that a teammate or someone else placed the message on Escobar’s face after Escobar left the clubhouse and had an opportunity to look in the mirror. If that is the case, then whoever is responsible for placing the wording on Escobar’s face must immediately be suspended by the Blue Jays and MLB for the rest of the season. There is simply no reason, no excuse, for a player at the highest level of baseball in the world to display or encourage the display of bigoted and homophobic messages.
What is even more damning is that Escobar’s teammates and members of the Red Sox, several of whom are fluent in Spanish, said and did nothing when they surely must have noticed the writing on his face during the game. How many times did Escobar walk past teammates in the dugout during the course of the game? How many times did Escobar congratulate teammates both on the field and in the dugout? How many face-to-face conversations did Escobar have with other players during the course of the game? Make no mistake about it, the blood is not just on the hands of Escobar, as there are others who must share some responsibility for this incident.
There are other modern examples of shockingly obscene behaviour in baseball. In 1996 during a game in Toronto, former Blue Jay Roberto Alomar spat on umpire John Hirshbeck allegedly as the result of Hirshbeck using a racial slur towards Alomar. Hirshbeck was not disciplined, but Alomar was suspended for five games and is now in the Baseball Hall of Fame. In 1989, former Oriole Billy Ripken had his baseball card picture taken while holding a bat with a profane message scrawled across the bottom. Ripken claimed to have used the bat by mistake, but the photographer failed to notice and Fleer printed the card and created an instant collectible. And who can forget Atlanta reliever John Rocker making a host of bigoted and offensive statements in 2000, in which he disparaged minorities and homosexuals, amongst others. Rocker was suspended for fourteen games.
The Escobar incident is at least as serious as John Rocker’s statement because both incidents clearly involve an element of planning and deliberation to target a specific group of people with an offensive message. In Escobar’s case, eye black is not sold with pre-written, ready to use statements of bigotry. Somebody had to take the time to write the message on Escobar’s face, knowing what it said and knowing that it would be publicly displayed.
One of society’s biggest mistakes is its insistence on viewing celebrities and athletes as role models or even heroes in our lives. I have never looked to the Major Leagues or the NHL for guidance on political or social issues or for examples as to how to conduct myself in everyday life. Athletes provide entertainment and relief from the drudgery of daily life, and the vast majority are far from exemplary human beings. Nevertheless, athletes must still comply with the basic moral standards and code of ethics which we, as a society, expect each citizen to follow in his or her daily life. Escobar and possibly several of his teammates blatantly violated those moral standards on Saturday, in a very hurtful way.
Although the Rocker incident provides a general guideline for any potential suspension levied by the League, the Blue Jays are free to suspend Escobar as they see fit. If he is the man primarily responsible for this disgraceful incident, the Blue Jays should suspend him for the rest of the season and trade him in the off-season. The Blue Jays must continue to distance themselves from this disgraceful incident, and there would be too much baggage and too much of a distraction going forward to allow the Blue Jays to justify bringing back Escobar and his mediocre hitting next season.
…and that’s the Last Word.
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