Yunel Escobar, the talented but underperforming shortstop for the last-place Toronto Blue Jays, has been suspended by the team for three games for having the Spanish words “tu eres maricon” written in his eye black. These words, translated to English, mean the following: “you are a faggot.”
A few weeks earlier, Scott Diamond, a pitcher for the Minnesota Twins, was suspended six games for throwing behind Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers.
It is possible to infer, then, that MLB (who has not intervened in the length of Escobar’s suspension) finds it roughly twice as problematic for a pitcher to throw behind a batter (which is kind of dangerous, but is kind of expected as a form of retaliation in certain circumstances) than it is for someone to derogatorily refer to a group of people who, because of their sexual orientation, have faced and continue to face immense discrimination.
This is particularly striking when one considers the fact that MLB’s history is not exactly filled with glowing stories of acceptance and harmony. After all, it wasn’t until 1947 that the color line in baseball was broken and Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby, players of black African descent, were able to know what it felt like to play in the major leagues. Until then, their best opportunity to play the game that they loved was to star in the “Negro leagues.” Even upon his arrival, Robinson in particular was subject to immense media scrutiny and racist insults.
MLB has made significant strides since then, and baseball is now truly a global sport: players come from Japan, Australia, Nicaragua and South Korea. Major league teams send scouts around the world, and attempts are made to uncover any hidden talent, no matter how remote the location. Players are accepted for their ability to play baseball; what they look like and where they’re from (at least from my detached view) does not seem to matter.
Many teams, including the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers, have also been active in promoting LGBT inclusion and equality through the use of “It Gets Better” videos. These videos, according to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation’s (GLAAD) website, are “aimed at welcoming and encouraging LGBT young people.” This is undoubtedly positive change, and certainly means something. It means that teams are taking steps forward to show that no matter who you are, you can play baseball and be welcomed in the same way as anyone else would.
This is why Escobar’s suspension makes so little sense. Teams have worked hard to craft an image of acceptance and equality, and in three words Escobar threw that image away. What he did conjured up locker room images of an old boys’ network where everyone makes fun of anyone who isn’t just like them.
He didn’t directly throw a baseball behind anyone’s back like Scott Diamond did, but he certainly threw an insult that undoubtedly forced plenty of LGBT youth to realize that for all of the talk about how “it gets better”, it’s still not better. This type of bullshit still happens, and that’s probably why for all of the talk and acceptance there have been virtually no mainstream athletes who have come out and said, “I’m gay.”
And yet, MLB has denounced this behaviour by sitting back and allowing the Blue Jays to impose a suspension that amounts to less than two percent of the entire season. It was their chance to really do something, to make a statement that as a league and as a society, we aren’t going to stand for this type of thing anymore, that it simply isn’t okay. Their lack of response was made worse when Escobar decided to state that he has gay friends: his hairdresser and the person who decorates his house are gay (of course they are).
What is embarrassing about this whole thing is that this type of response falls perfectly in line with MLB’s reaction to issues that really matter. For instance, earlier this season Detroit Tiger Delmon Young went on an anti-Semitic tirade where he proclaimed “fucking Jews!” and proceeded to attack a group of innocent tourists outside of his hotel. He was suspended for seven games. In November 2007, ex-St. Louis Cardinal manager Tony La Russa pled guilty to a DUI arrest and received a zero game suspension. For the record, driving while drunk can kill: also in 2007, St. Louis Cardinal pitcher Josh Hancock was killed when he was involved in a motor vehicle accident; his blood-alcohol level was nearly double the legal limit in Missouri.
Meanwhile, MLB has been incredibly quick to stand up to steroid users who aren’t killing people or chastising Jews and “faggots” through their drug use. The first positive steroid test a player has leads to a mandatory 50-game suspension, the second to a mandatory 100-game suspension and the third to a lifetime ban.
MLB would likely argue that steroid use compromises the integrity of the sport.
It is clear, though, that this concern for integrity is not absolute.