Blue Jays’ player reopens issue of homophobia in sports

Homophobia and the use of gay slurs, although very much diminished in western society, are still prevalent – especially in the world of sports. This was made clear on Sept. 15 when Toronto Blue Jays shortstop, Yunel Escobar, wrote, “Tu ere maricon,” meaning “You are a faggot” in Spanish on his eye black. What would ever compel someone to do something so stupid and ignorant, especially when they are on a live stage in front of hundreds of thousands of fans watching on TV and in the stands on a nightly basis is hard to understand.

At a press conference on Wednesday, September 19, Escobar gave a pretty shoddy apology. Through a translator he said, ““I’m sorry for the actions of the other day … it’s not something I intended to be offensive … it was nothing intentional directed at anyone in particular.” Whether intentionally directed at anyone in particular or not, those words insulted an entire group of people. Escobar was given a three-game suspension, a punishment many feel did not fit the crime.

“The three-game suspension is more for other players not to do it. And $100,000 [the amount of pay Escobar would receive in those three games played] is nothing,” Laurier Brantford extramural basketball player, Oje Izirein says. “It’s the not the job of the baseball organization to stop people from feeling these feelings – it’s the parents.”

How you are brought up by your parents and by society can play a role when it comes to making these kinds of statements and having these particular views. Escobar stated that “maricon” is a word often used in Latino culture and some Latino-born baseball players, most notably Miami Marlins manager, Ozzie Guillen, has spoken out and dismissed this expression, saying it was a joke and that he uses it all the time. In an interview conducted with The Palm Beach Post, Guillen said, “I think this kid did it without intending to hurt anybody. I think he did it just for fun. But in our country [Venezuela] we do that.”

Whether you are used to saying it or that nobody you know cares is irrelevant. As a  professional it is crucial to adhere to what is and isn’t acceptable in society as a whole. Just because you say it loosely in your own circle in absolutely no way makes it ok to say it in the public eye.

Canadian collegiate athletics suffer from a similar fate. Gay slurs are used just as loosely in the locker room and on the playing surface, as Matthew Wright, captain of the Laurier Brantford extramural basketball team explains. “It happens more often than people think. And a lot of people think just because it’s a sport and a lot of testosterone involved that there’s not a whole lot of homosexuals that play sports.” says Wright.

There are definitely more homosexual athletes than we think, but sports probably aren’t the best stage for them to “come out”. An environment in which gays can be comfortable in their own skin seemingly doesn’t apply in the sports world because of the ignorance that exists. If they were to come out, life could become even worse. It would be hard to cope with all the media attention, especially with the tension that could be created within the team’s locker room. Players could feel violated and betrayed by their teammate and naturally become defensive about things like changing with a gay teammate or showering with him or feel like he might make an advance on one of them.

“Personally, I’d like to see the guy come out. I’d encourage them to do it, but ultimately it’s up to them,” Wright said.

Laurier Brantford teammates Wright and Izirein liked to think that sports are about results and winning and if you’re doing everything you can to help your team win, who cares what your sexual orientation is. However, Wright does realize that some guys on the team certainly won’t feel that way.

“I think that some guys would obviously be very offended … the team is like a brotherhood and you feel if a guy was to come out … you wouldn’t understand what to do,” says Wright.

Izirein agrees that respect is an issue, “If you don’t meet and see what you’re talking about, you won’t have respect for them.”

But how is it really possible to inform and teach athletes to be respectful? Unfortunately this kind of thing is not easy to police, especially from the locker room where most players are desensitized to the slurs. And it also takes strong character to stand up and call out a teammate for saying, “You’re a faggot” or “Stop being so gay,” regardless of a lack of real intent or not.

That’s what makes college and university such an important starting point. These institutions are a place of learning, whether it is scholastically, in life or on the playing field. Students are meeting and playing with new people and at this point they should be mature enough to handle others of different sexual orientation, skin colour, etc.

With this being the case, there is no reason for students to be held any less responsible for using gay slurs when they’re playing or in the locker room. This is something Wright strongly agreed with.

“College and university students should be held just as accountable for their actions and their words just the same as a pro player would. Just because they don’t appeal to the masses and they think it will go under the radar … You never know who is listening and who you could hurt,” says Wright.

When it comes down to it, the fallout for Yunel Escobar and the “eye black” incident is more than simply him being suspended and losing a small blow to his paycheque. This will stay with him throughout his career and hopefully he will become an example that athletes can learn from to become more aware and sensitive to the world around them. Who knows what kind of talented athletes may use these kinds of slurs if they’re discouraged and defamed by some ignorant teammate or fellow athlete. Society is above gay slurs and insults and sports should be too.

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