Yunel Escobar, homophobia, and Major League Baseball.

Major League Base­ball has a lot of its own homo­pho­bia to over­come before it can get too self-righteous about the Yunel Esco­bar slur. But oppor­tu­nity knocks.

Boston Red Sox v Toronto Blue Jays


The homo­pho­bic slur (“Tu ere mar­icón’ — loosely trans­lated as, ‘You are sissy / faggy’) that Yunel Esco­bar placed on his eye black dur­ing a Red Sox-Blue Jays game on Sat­ur­day has touched off a firestorm around the league and through­out the base­ball media. He has been sus­pended for 3 games by the Blue Jays and many have stated that Esco­bar should be sus­pended for the rest of the sea­son.  On Toronto Sports radio the Fan 590, Bob McCown sug­gested that he should be released imme­di­ately and that ‘there is only one guilty party in all of this: Yunel Escobar.’

I fear that is exactly how it will play out: Esco­bar did some­thing very wrong, he got rep­ri­manded and now we can all feel good about our tol­er­ant ways and leave it at that.  But, this inci­dent goes well beyond Yunel Esco­bar and is reflec­tive of Major League Baseball’s own trou­bled past and present in deal­ing with LGBTQ issues. It should be used as an oppor­tu­nity to take a crit­i­cal look into baseball’s moral author­ity to wring Escobar’s hands, how base­ball could use this moment to start think­ing about its own role in homo­pho­bia and what that re-thinking could mean for LGBTQ play­ers in the future.

With­out doubt, I’m encour­aged that we have reached a point where this kind of slur is not offi­cially tol­er­ated, and I’m pretty cer­tain that even 10–15 years ago it would have barely been noticed. That’s progress. Yet, amongst the cur­rent crop of 750 Major Lea­guers, none of them are both LGBTQ AND have felt it was a safe space to come out. Even this year’s Olympics had 23 openly gay ath­letes (albeit out of 12,000 par­tic­i­pants) and the Olympic gay vil­lages are becom­ing key (though tem­po­rary) safe and open spaces in the sport­ing world.

If you add up all those who have come out dur­ing their play­ing days in Major League Baseball’s 150 year his­tory, you reach a grand total of one.  And that player went through hell.  Through­out his 1976–79 career in the big leagues, Glenn Burke faced extreme prej­u­dice inter­nally and a hush-hush atti­tude exter­nally as was well doc­u­mented in the superb doc­u­men­tary “Out: The Glenn Burke Story.”   After being traded by the Dodgers who had once offered him $75,000 to marry a woman, his new Oak­land man­ager Billy Mar­tin ended his intro­duc­tion with “Oh, by the way, this is Glenn Burke and he’s a faggot.’”

Hope­fully times have changed, but appar­ently no cur­rent player feels safe that base­ball is enough of a queer-positive place to try test­ing the waters.

I’m not going to get into the many debates of what the word mar­icón actu­ally means or try to under­stand what Escobar’s inten­tions were exactly. While I’m far from thrilled by what Esco­bar did, I believe base­ball has long shown itself to be a cul­ture where such words might be seen as ok to say (or write on your face).  And Escobar’s actions raise fur­ther uncom­fort­able ques­tions: was this the first time he’s done this?  Did oth­ers turn a blind eye then and on Sat­ur­day? Why?

End the ‘kiss-cam’ please

In many Major League cities (includ­ing Toronto), they have the ‘kiss-cam’ where (pre­sum­ably) straight cou­ples are pushed to kiss each other on the big screen.  We’ve all seen it.  The crowd cheers as the cou­ples (or, as is likely in some cases, friends) are pres­sured to kiss for the crowd.  In some cities, they have taken this prac­tice a step fur­ther. As a gag to make peo­ple squea­mish at the end of the kiss-cam sequence, they show two men and we are all sup­posed to laugh it up.  This is clearly not a safe space for other same-sex cou­ples in the crowd who are being directly ridiculed by what they see.  It didn’t go unno­ticed by Oak­land A’s pitcher Bran­don McCarthy (1) who saw this bla­tant dis­crim­i­na­tion as ‘shitty com­edy’ and ‘offen­sive homo­pho­bia’ — call­ing for an end to the trend. (read all his ‘kiss-cam’ tweets here)

Though anece­do­tal, I have heard a fair num­ber of casual homo­pho­bic slurs thrown around by fans at Blue Jays games over the years and I have never seen some­one kicked out (or even ques­tioned) for it. It’s gen­er­ally tol­er­ated in a ‘fans will be fans’ sort of way. Another fan-related inci­dent occurred in Seat­tle in 2008 when a les­bian cou­ple was asked to leave a game, at least partly because ‘a woman didn’t want to explain to her son why two women were kiss­ing.’ Obvi­ously, this was a Safeco Field deci­sion and not Major League base­ball direc­tive, but it shows the degree to which open affec­tion within the LGBTQ com­mu­nity is not quite ready for prime-time in base­ball circles.

Major League Baseball’s opportunity

So, once the hand-wringing stops, maybe we can start to look at the cul­ture that leads to all this. Let’s call this an open­ing. An oppor­tu­nity for Major League Base­ball to start to look at the con­di­tions that have led to only one openly gay player ever step­ping to the plate.

I have lit­tle doubt that a player will take on the coura­geous but lonely road of com­ing out in the next few years.  And — hope­fully — this Esco­bar inci­dent has a the sil­ver lin­ing that Major League Base­ball and its fans will now have that player’s back when they do.  Per­haps this whole process could be started by hold­ing a ‘Glenn Burke day’ across the league.

Back in 2001, Bobby Valen­tine, then man­ager of the Mets, said that the Major Leagues are “prob­a­bly ready for an openly gay player…the play­ers are diverse enough now that I think they could han­dle it.”  Maybe we’ve finally crossed the thresh­old.  But base­ball has some struc­tural resis­tance to over­come if that’s to happen.


(1) Twit­ter super­star and all around decent guy McCarthy is recov­er­ing from brain surgery after get­ting hit in the head with a line drive a few weeks ago. Get well soon!


Dar­ren Pus­cas’ pas­sions are social jus­tice, the web, and base­ball. As such, he is plan­ning to launch — a site about the inter­sec­tion of base­ball and pol­i­tics, com­ment­ing on stuff just like this Esco­bar inci­dent.  You could check the site now, but all you’ll see is some really large base­balls and some ran­dom text. Check back in the spring! 

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5 Responses to “Yunel Escobar, homophobia, and Major League Baseball.”

  1. Sara September 19, 2012 at 10:34 am #

    Hey Dar­ren,

    I agree that this slur should not have been vis­i­ble how­ever I bet that if some­one was to look at the under­side of many play­ers hats they would find sim­i­lar state­ments. It is not an out­ward slur as I am sure many agree, it is directed at them­selves. A sort of back-handed moti­va­tion or reverse psy­chol­ogy if you will.

    I do how­ever under­stand the erad­i­cat­ing this type of dis­crim­i­na­tion from the Eng­lish lan­guage as a whole should be a pri­or­ity but I don’t think that Yunel was think­ing about the big pic­ture when he made those eye blacks. I think releas­ing him from the Jays orga­ni­za­tion is extreme; sus­pen­sion is def­i­nitely expected but please don’t trade Yunel for one bone headed mistake!


  2. David September 19, 2012 at 12:27 pm #

    Great post, Dar­ren. Inci­sive and just fierce enough, with a love of the game inform­ing your vision.

    One thing I was won­der­ing about was whether he’d be scape­goated or whether there’d be any light shed on how wide­spread homo­pho­bia is among play­ers, and whether some play­ers are speak­ing out.…

    The good news is that you just can’t do this kind of stuff with­out a response. I don’t know Yunel, his life or times, but I think he has inad­ver­tently cre­ated an oppor­tu­nity, as you put it.


    • Darren September 20, 2012 at 8:47 pm #

      Out­side of McCarthy, base­ball play­ers seem slow to speak out com­pared to other sports, for rea­sons I can’t quite fig­ure out. It is con­ser­v­a­tive game and maybe has more con­ser­v­a­tive play­ers, but…

      I am look­ing to hear more from play­ers, but they do seem to be lay­ing low. I’d love to see it, but I kinda can’t blame them at this point.

  3. RAEB September 19, 2012 at 1:03 pm #

    Mari­con can be best trans­lated as “fag” in the way it was used as a gay slur in the 80-90s but thank­fully has declined quite a bit.

    It’s also inter­est­ing to note that it’s not even writ­ten out prop­erly, as it should be “tu eres” — and the lack of ‘s’ in eres shows a com­plete lack of intel­li­gence akin to say­ing “you is stupid”.

    • Darren September 20, 2012 at 8:53 pm #

      Thanks for clar­i­fy­ing. I speak inter­me­di­ate Span­ish, so I kind of inter­preted the lack of an ‘un’ before Mari­con and after ‘Tu eres (or ‘ere’) as mean­ing that it wasn’t a noun. Either way the deroga­tory mean­ing comes across.

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