Perhaps this was a joke that went awry. Since players no longer use a tube of black gunk as eye black and it’s now a clean stick-on, a few teammates could’ve taken Yunel Escobar’s supply of eye black stickers, wrote the offensive terms on them in an ink that doesn’t activate until it reaches a certain temperature—presumably from sweat—and watched as hilarity ensued.
Except it wasn’t hilarity to those who saw it or had their attention drawn to it by the media.
If Escobar did this himself, then it’s piling onto the problems of the multi-talented Cuban since he came onto the scene with the Braves and repeatedly angered Bobby Cox and his teammates with his pouting and brainless play that led to the Braves trading such a gifted athlete to the Blue Jays in the first place.
Is this that big of a deal? It’s offensive, but the controversy from 2011 when Braves’ pitching coach Roger McDowell openly mocked fans with homosexual allusions in coarse terms with children nearby was exponentially worse than clubhouse humor that was meant to be a joke among teammates and turned into a huge mess. In the confines of the clubhouse, where teasing about sexual orientation and playacting in such a way is a regular occurrence, it’s not a big deal at all.
What those who are taking such great offense to this are missing is that baseball players are baseball players and sports clubhouses are sports clubhouses. Because there’s greater scrutiny, closer inspection and analysis of what happens on the field, and a larger number of outlets to bring stories to the our collective attention, it doesn’t alter the man’s world that is big time sports. The world is no longer insular; women aren’t relegated to being secretaries and receptionists; players are making their views on society more known and whether it’s due to religion or the macho sensibility that is prevalent among Latin players, this is going on publicly and privately.
Are there gay athletes in every sport from baseball to football to European soccer to hockey? Of course. Do they laugh along with the joking while putting up a front for appearances and to possibly keep their jobs? Absolutely. Is there anything that can be done about it? No.
That Escobar is a Latin player isn’t to be ignored. It was the same term as what was written on Escobar’s eye black—maricón which means “faggot” in Spanish—that was the genesis of one of boxing’s most storied and tragic events when Emile Griffith beat Bennie Paret to death in what could only be described as a visceral rage that isn’t present even in the most hotly contested fight. Paret, at the weigh-in prior to the bout, had called Griffith a maricón. It’s about as big an insult as can be tossed at a Latin. There’s a large amount of one-upmanship and perception that still remains in big time sports. When the Marlins signed Jose Reyes and told Hanley Ramirez that he was moving to third base to accommodate the new acquisition, it wasn’t simply that Ramirez’s position of shortstop was being usurped, but the idea that his territory was being threatened. Whether it was good of bad for the team was secondary to issues that have more to do with a mentality and culture than anything else.
Despite only two of these incidents being known to the masses in recent history, it’s not indicative of an isolated instance. There are higher-educated and self-described “enlightened” people running around professional sports teams than there were in the past. As recently as 15 years ago, baseball executives in top posts were all male and were almost all former players, legacy cases, or men who worked their way up in one form or another. More diversity doesn’t imply greater enlightenment. There will still be people who think women shouldn’t be involved with the men making baseball decisions; there will still be people who allow their own personal feelings to interfere with whom they hire as on-field staff.
The media is acting indignantly at Escobar because they’re supposed to act indignant. Certain new age segments are turning ashen, shocked that such a thing could exist and be accepted in this day and age. These are entities that are either ordered to write about a situation that’s become known and aren’t surprised and those who don’t have the faintest clue about what’s customary inside a big league clubhouse.
MLB is investigating the Escobar incident because they don’t want to alienate a large segment of the population. It’s a business and uttering slurs against any bloc is bad for business. But considering what inside baseball people know of what’s normal in the sanctity of a clubhouse, I’m sure there are many who are shrugging and saying, “It’s just a dumb baseball player or a joke that went wrong.”
Escobar will be punished because MLB has no choice in the matter, but this type of thing is reality that wound up in the news. It’s as monolithic as the farm system, advance scouting, and players complaining about their contracts. One punishment for show is not going to make it stop.