Monday, September 17, 2012

The Yunel Escobar Eye Black Thing...and Why It Matters

As has been well-documented, this photo was taken by @james_in_to.
This is some next-level numbskullery.

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.


Anonymous said...

When MLB and all the baseball fans who are going to gnash their teeth over this show SOME concern about the rampant DUI problem in baseball, I won't point out the hypocrisy of the mob mentality on this one.

mike in boston said...

until we know who wrote it, i'm withholding judgment on Yunel. What is clear at this point is that someone at the very least made a colossal error in judgment.

The Jays have issued a statement condemning discrimination of any kind. That's a good start, but anything less than full accountability for this incident, including the manager and GM, is unacceptable.

Brendan McKnight said...

Spot on. What confuses me the most, and what I'm hoping for some clarification on in the official statements tomorrow, is how could Yunel be allowed out of the clubhouse with those written on his eye-black? With players, coaches, staff members and media in and around the clubhouse before the game, and everyone on the field and in the dugout throughout, one would think that someone would take notice and say, at the very least, "C'mon Yunel, what are you doing?".

I'm not sure what's more troubling, Escobar putting the eye-black on his face knowing what was written on them, or everyone around him allowing them to stay on.

Tao of Stieb said...

I think I've been pretty clear about my level of frustration at the casual approach to DUIs.

One doesn't preclude the other, though.

Anonymous said...

I'll add another explanation. Lyrics. yep, lyrics to a song. Regardless of that, bad taste for sure. dumb.

Anonymous said...

Tao you're right one doesn't preclude the other but for those of you in the media or those that have a public platform it's kind of funny how a stupid comment will ramp the moral outrage up to levels not witnessed when a player drives under the influence or batters his wife or GF. You know situations that could actually be life threatening.

It's funny as much as we all have the right to be offended, people still forget others have the right to offend even if it's disgusting.

What they don't have the right to do is to injure or possibly kill. I hope the next time a player turns up in the news for such a reason you media guys of good character make a similar fuss.

Jonathan Johanson said...

I feel all the spanish speaking players are going to have to shoulder some of the blame for letting this "joke" last one inning let alone nine. Wasn't Omar Vizquel signed to a contract mainly to display veteran leadership and maturity? Luis Rivera had to have noticed this at some point during the game. Will he also be apologizing tomorrow during the press conference, or is he merely there to translate for Yunel? If a elementary school student was yelling gay slurs to other classmates, and the teacher didn't immediately stop him from doing so, I think the teacher would be in as much trouble as the student.

That being said, I can't see AA throwing all the spanish players under the bus - Yunel will probably have to take the full impact on the blowback he is receiving now, and into next year at spring training.

scott malkinson said...

I strongly disagree here...if im not mistaken it was Helen Lovejoy who was concerned for the children, not Maude Flanders

Anonymous said...

For those calling for Yunel to never play for the Jays again, the mob mentality is laughable. Truly. Laughable. Righteous indignation knows no bounds. Drive drunk? Beat your wife? Meh. Bad boy. Say "f**got"? HANG HIM HIGH!

Jonathan Johanson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Yunel and the Jays should apologize, they should ensure that there is some education for players in their organization, and that should be the end of it.

Anonymous said...

If he'd written "you're a sissy" would people be going nuts? I think not. But, let the lynch mob mentality run amok. Lynch mobs gonna lynch.

Mark Dowling said...

" 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."

As they should next week. This is Escobar's sh!tshow, and the fan shouldn't be ostracised or otherwise retaliated against.

Tao of Stieb said...

Lynch mob. Appropriate. Heh.

Kathryn said...

Well said. No matter what "sides" come out, it matters for the very reasons you just stated so well. Catching up on the shitshow now, I think the people who frustrate me the most outside of the blatantly idiotic, are those who are being too dismissive towards it. Boys will be boys...ballplayers will be ballplayers...I don't care about locker room culture. It's not an excuse; even if it's reality, it's one that has to be spurred to change.

Anyways, alas I have nothing controversial to comment. I really appreciated your post.

Anonymous said...

Tao, thank you for a measured, well-thought out and -written post. While, at best, this was a dumbass move by Escobar, I've been struggling with the hypocrisy that treats this as an isolated incident.

As a female who follows sports, quite a bit online, I'm bombarded daily with casual misogyny. Some days I barely notice; lately, it's become more difficult to sit on my hands. It's a cultural thing, one I'm not expecting to change overnight, but I appreciate awareness from bloggers such as yourself.


Anonymous said...

Estúpido ignorante no sabe ni escribir en su idioma "tu eres maricon " is the correct form

Chris said...

In every single major league ballpark, you can see the number 42 is retired. Every single one.

Since that number was retired, a day has been set aside where every player wears the number 42 to remember how Jackie Robinson overcame bigotry and even threats on his life in a time where that seemed acceptable.

What happened on the baseball field in Jackie Robinson's time mattered. It changed our entire culture.

On Saturday, a baseball player on my hometown team played the entire game with a slur written on his face.

It was a disgrace to the team. It was a disgrace to the Blue Jays uniform. It was a disgrace to the game of baseball. It was a disgrace to the legacy of Jackie Robinson.

What was written on Yunel Escobar's face on Saturday matters. And, more importantly, our willingness to accept or not accept it also matters.

Dano said...

Just a thought...

what if those stickers were an insult left for Escobar from teammates?

What if he wore them to show what he has to deal with in the clubhouse?

What if his locker room unpopularity is due to his sexuality?

What if he comes 'out' tomorrow?

Just saying


Anonymous said...

I'm so sick of straight men racing to make excuses for homophobic slurs.

The word "b-tch" has two meanings as well. That's no excuse for writing it in your eye black.

Anonymous said...

People aren't thinking clearly when an act that is, on the surface, nothing more than an offense against political correctness garners FAR more outrage than real violent, dangerous, and illegal behaviour by MLB players. It's a sad world we live in. Enjoy your stoning.

Anonymous said...

This is, by far, the worst piece of sensationalist drivel you've ever posted, Tao. You'll look back on this article in six months and be embarrassed.

mike in boston said...

People aren't thinking clearly when an act that is, on the surface, nothing more than an offense against political correctness garners FAR more outrage than real violent, dangerous, and illegal behaviour by MLB players.

1. There is no reason to think people who are outraged about this are not also outraged about other issues. It's possible to care about both at the same time. This one just happened though.

2. Replace the word on Yunel's eyeblack with "nigger" and see if you still feel like it's merely an affront to political correctness. If you do, then i'm afraid the 21st century is going to be a very difficult place for you to survive.

KissMyPurpleButt said...

Well written post. I wouldn't be surprised if he was suspended for the rest of the season.

tincanman2010 said...

Well said Tao

Anonymous said...

In many contexts, "gay" or "faggot" doesn't mean "homosexual," it simply means "bad."

Anonymous said...

I am the most outraged! My outrage is easily a 7!

Eddy said...

3 game suspension. A slap on the wrist if ever i saw one. That just tells the rest of the team "do dumb shit, we don't mind". The culture on that team is starting to look like the BoSox. Gregg Zaun pointed a lot of it out on Primetime Sports. A lot of stupid errors both fielding and baserunning. Yunel always chasing every fly ball in the park as if it's his to catch. I'm starting to think laziness or lack of focus from management on down is more of a problem than the injuries. This final act of stupidity was the straw for me. Season over, i'll check in on the Jays during the offseason.

DWBudd said...

It was an incredibly dumb move by a pretty marginal player. That's not a good combination.

The way I see all of these arguments posted here is the following: yes, beating your wife or getting arrested with a DUI is worse - far worse- than writing stupid slurs in eye black on your face.

But to the Blue Jays management, and MLB more generally, the difference is that the DUI is something the player does off the field. Escobar, when he puts his uniform on and takes the field, is "at work," and thus his actions and behaviour there necessarily represent the team, the league, and the image of both.

If he makes insulting, offensive remarks, that could hurt the team, and they need to act. Hell, in Canada, offensive "hate speech" could in cases actually be criminal. Does AA want to wind up in front of a tribunal on hate speech? I doubt it.

The punishment is appropriate, even if the slur is a matter of appeasing the gods of political correctness. Baseball, to the Blue Jays' brass, is a business, and they, like any employer, need to keep that in mind.

David said...

One more thing, not directly related to this incident: you write "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?" In a similar vein, as we have seen this season, the Cardinals may have been right in letting Colby Rasmus go. Of course, the jury is still out, but we have to be careful about quickly anointing all of AA's moves as steals.

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