|As has been well-documented, this photo was taken by @james_in_to.|
Yunel Escobar spent nine innings in the playing area of the Rogers Centre on Saturday with something stupidly offensive written on his face. In an area where literally thousands of cameras would be pointed in his direction to document the words scrawled on his eye black patches.
What "Tu ere maricon" actually means is a subject of some hair-splitting at this point, but most translations point to it being a slur against gay men. At best, it might mean "you are a sissy" or "you are an effeminate coward".
It's entirely possible that this would have slipped by with little notice, except that a dedicated fan of the Blue Jays who often takes pictures from his vantage point behind the dugout noticed those callous words. When he realized what the words meant - and he went to pains to find out - he was rightfully upset by them. But he was conflicted as to whether if he should even publish the picture, in spite of the fact that he found it offensive and unacceptable. He felt some loyalty towards the team, and also some loyalty towards the player. As a season ticket holder, he sees them at most games, and some of them smile and nod and wave in his direction, recognizing him as a die-hard fan.
But ultimately, he couldn't let it lie. Nor should he have.
There are those who want to slough off this story as much ado about nothing. They say that Anglophones, as outsiders to the culture and language, can't accurately understand the context, meaning or nuance of the term, or how commonly it is used within certain Spanish-speaking cultures. As someone who is bilingual, I find that argument a tad convenient and unconvincing.
Still others might see it as a "boys will be boys" indiscretion. These are the sort of epithets that are still common within the realm of locker room chatter, and Escobar was likely just horsing around. It's entirely likely that the message had less to do with hate than with lunkheaded nitwittery.
There's also still some elements of this story that need to be sorted out, including who actually wrote those words and how they ended up on Escobar's face. Moreover, who else - teammates, coaches, management - noticed this and when did they know?
Absent that information, I'll pass over what I think should be done to remedy the situation. But let me say why I think this matters.
Don't mistake me for Helen Lovejoy, the preacher's wife from the Simpsons when I ask that you think of the children. I feel embarrassed even going there. But as young boys begin the transition towards being young men, they pick up on cues for what is appropriate from a lot of really dumb places. From TV, from the movies, and when it comes to notions of "manhood", especially from sports.
When I think about where my attitudes about homosexuality were first formed, I immediately flash back to Eddie Murphy's wildy over-the-top interpretations of gay men in his stand up act or in Beverly Hills Cop. Or the Jack Tripper character in Three's Company. It's ridiculous, I know. But for most of my adolescence, an affected lisp and an exaggerated hand on the hip constituted high comedy. And it reinforced the "differentness" of homosexuals to a point which almost completely obscured their humanity.
Even within the past year, I tweeted out something in which the punchline was, more or less, "like a girl." I'm lucky to have a multitude of smart female followers who were quick to point out that while I might have found the quip to be funny, they found it hurtful.
And when it comes to Yunel Escobar, how many Blue Jays fans took the consternation shown towards him in Atlanta as some symbol of what a bunch of backwoods, uncivilized yahoos the fans, broadcasters and members of the Braves were? I'll cop to having made that sort comment. Sometimes, you forget how deeply rooted some of this stuff becomes.
And maybe that's the point. Sports at all levels have allowed this casual homophobia to take root and and become the norm. How many times have you heard hockey fans refer to the Canucks' Swedish twins as the "Sedin Sisters"? How many times have you heard an athlete taunt someone with such a slur, or heard something just as offensive from a fellow patron in the stands? Questioning an opponent's manhood, insinuating that his level of courage is not up to snuff because he's either female or gay are de rigeur.
What shouldn't be lost in this is the amount of character demonstrated by the photographer. He saw something. He saw it was wrong and he said something. It might not have been what was most advantageous to the team or the player for which he roots with a passion that few can match. But for James, there was something bigger at stake. There aren't many of us who would have seen that bigger picture. There aren't many of us who would have spoken up. And this is how these things perpetuate themselves.
Now, as we wait for the official response, one can only hope that the Blue Jays take the opportunity to demonstrate their character in the face of these events and show their willingness to help contribute to the change that can make for a more compassionate and tolerant world. They owe their fans that much.
They certainly owe James that much.