“TU ERE MARICON.” And then Twitter and Facebook simultaneously exploded. When Yunel Escobar, the talented Cuban shortstop of the Toronto Blue Jays took to the field on Saturday, September 15th at the Skydome/Rogers Centre his chosen, carefully selected eye-black message-du-jour read “Tu ere Maricon,” which, loosely translated can be offered up as either, “You are a faggot” or as “You are a sissy/pussy.” Neither translation puts Escobar on the pedestal as a beacon of inspiration to the youth in Canada and beyond but it is safe to opine that his search for the spotlight is now all but over.
If you’re not upset yet, then you should be. You should be upset that somehow, some way, in the locker-room pre-game, his teammates said nothing. You should be upset that somehow, some way, in the dug-out during the anthem, his manager John Farrell and all his minions said nothing. You should be upset that somehow, some way, the entire attending Toronto sporting media, those bastions of Factoid Miniscule and lauders of the Politically Correct, said nothing. You should be upset that somehow, some way, his handlers – the ever-present agent, PR guy and translator – while he was applying the offending phrase in front of the bare-bulb Hollywood mirror, said nothing. Thankfully, James Greenhalgh, an office manager from Markham, Ontario and season ticket holder, armed with only a Jonny Lee Miller Elementary curiosity and a penchant for sporting photography, said something when no-one else would. If you’re not upset yet, you never will be.
There are a multitude of factors at play here, each of them far more interesting than having to sit through a Blue Jays game in another injury-riddled, Bautista-less, where’s .500 September. Let’s assume we dismiss the magic bullet/Magic Johnson conspiracy theorists who have ridiculously projected Escobar as a sacrificial lamb for the plight of homophobic bullying and focus instead on the societal issues that have been raised here on Earth. It has been suggested by many – bloggers and main-stream bobble-heads alike – that this falls comfortably into the Manny Ramirez black hole of ignorance – a case of just “Yunel being Yunel.” While I agree that, like 15% gratuities in restaurants and other basic need-to-knows, it should be covered in the Air Canada in-flight magazine, a small amount of Google research under Canadian Slur Translation might have yielded the Toronto shortstop some much needed local knowledge. While Manny may have perfected “dumb” as a perfect excuse for bathroom breaks mid-inning and other Funniest Home Video moments, there is a rather bold line between “I didn’t realize there were steroids in my cough syrup” and “Oops, I didn’t realize there’s more than one way to translate and skin this particular cat.”
The Jays, for their part, at least took the lead and suspended Escobar for 3 games during which time it is presumed he will be educated in the basic Public Relations requirements expected of the modern sporting elite – shut up about 9/11, don’t use Hitler analogies for anything and for God’s sake, no more eye-black messages. I am from the camp that believes Escobar when he says; “It was not something I intended to be offensive. It’s something that’s been said amongst Latinos… it didn’t have the significance to the way it’s being interpreted right now,” but it would be best if his Ignorance of Youth defence not surface again in the near future.
In the testosterone fuelled world of Male Sports where gay athletes prefer to remain closeted for fear of peer and fan reprisal, an act as simple and as careless as Escobar’s only serves as a spark to the pyre. While Fat Cat Bob McCown continues his Clint Eastwood, monotone, Hang ‘Em High diatribes to empty chairs on the validity of never seeing Escobar in a Blue Jays uniform again, the religious right and their twisted version of moral superiority have attempted to crown their latest Champion. Citing Chapter and Verse, backed by supermarket scientific studies that would make a Grade 3 Chemistry Student cringe, the morally indignant strangely choose the issue of Gay Rights as their time to become the bed-fellow of the concept of Choice. It is the kind of thinking worthy of the Dark Ages – before cell phones, TVs and oh yeah…thought.
“Locker rooms should be safe and sports venues should be free from homophobia. Athletes should be judged on talent, heart and work ethic, not sexual orientation.” Such is the message of Patrick Burke’s You Can Play Project, an organization dedicated to the memory of his deceased brother Brendan Burke (Toronto Maple Leaf’s GM Brian Burke is their father) and devoted to the ideal that the content of one’s character matters more on the field of athletic endeavor than the content of one’s closet. Straight athletes like Canucks forward Manny Malhotra have taken up Burke’s call-to-arms and, in an effort to educate, have marched in Pride parades around North America alongside the LGBT communities. There appears to be no giant leap for mankind here but in another small step for man, Yunel Escobar announced that the salary from his suspension would be donated to You Can Play. Baby steps I suppose, but steps nonetheless…
Until next time Kelowna, take the time to say hello to a stranger… you just might make a friend.