Yunel Escobar suspended 3 games
The Blue Jays announced the suspension Tuesday after meeting with Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association at commissioner Bud Selig's office in New York to determine Escobar's punishment.
At least one photo taken by Getty Images showed Escobar wearing the eye black with the slur written in Spanish during Saturday's game against the Boston Red Sox. Getty Images confirmed the photo's authenticity to ESPN.com's Keith Law.
"I'm sorry for the actions of the other day," Escobar said through a translator during a news conference at Yankee Stadium. "It was not something I intended to be offensive. It was something I just put on the sticker on my face as a joke. There was nothing intentional directed at anyone in particular.
"I don't have anything against homosexuals. I have friends who are gay. In reality I'd like to ask for the apologies of all those who have been offended by this."
I don't have anything against homosexuals. I have friends who are gay. In reality, I'd like to ask for the apologies of all those who have been offended by this. ” -- Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar
Considering Escobar makes about $5 million this season, he will lose more than $92,000 during his suspension.
Escobar's forfeited salary during his suspension will be directed by the Blue Jays to You Can Play, a Denver-based organization which is dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes without regard to sexual orientation, and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, the team announced.
Escobar also will participate in an outreach initiative to help educate society about insensitivity and tolerance to others.
"Major League Baseball supports today's decision by the Blue Jays to discipline Yunel Escobar and commends them for handling this situation appropriately and promptly," Selig said in a statement. "It is important to note that in addition to being suspended without pay, Mr. Escobar has agreed to complete a sensitivity training program and will participate in a public outreach initiative aimed toward promoting sensitivity and tolerance.
"I consistently say that Baseball is a social institution with important social responsibilities and that I expect those who represent Major League Baseball to act with the kind of respect and sensitivity that the game's diverse fan base deserves. Mr. Escobar has admitted that his actions were a mistake, and I am hopeful he can use this unfortunate situation as an opportunity to educate himself and others that intolerance has no place in our game or society."
Major League Baseball regulations prohibit derogatory words and symbols on uniforms. Writing something of that nature on eye-black would fall under that category, MLB spokesman Pat Courtney said.
The NFL and college football have banned eye-black messages. The college ban came after stars including Tim Tebow, who wrote Bible verses, and Reggie Bush, who put his hometown area code, began to use the eye-black to send messages.
"I can guarantee this will not happen again in my career," Escobar said. "And it's a lesson I've learned and will never commit again in my career. I'm sorry, I didn't mean for this to be misinterpreted by the gay community. I apologize.
"It's just something that's been said around amongst Latinos. It's not something that's meant to be offensive. For us, it didn't have the significance to the way it's being interpreted right now. It's a word used often within teams. ... I agree with the suspension and don't have any problem with it."
The suspension was to have started Tuesday night. The game between Toronto and New York was rained out.
Escobar wore a jacket and jeans at the 26-minute news conference and was joined by Blue Jays manager John Farrell, general manager Alex Anthopoulos, coach Luis Rivera and translator Robbie Guerra, a lawyer from the players' union.
Escobar said he was "embarrassed" and said it was his idea to write the slur, which he did 10 minutes before the game. He said he had never written it before.
"I have friends who are gay," he said. "The person who decorates my house is gay. The person who cuts my hair is gay. I have various friends who are gay. Honestly they haven't felt as offended about this. There's just a different understanding in the Latin community of this word."
Farrell said no one on the team paid any attention to the words on his shortstop's eye black because usually they are "uplifting and motivational."
Escobar said he's been writing on his eye black throughout his career.
"My reaction initially was one of surprise, because this is completely out of character as I know him as a person and as a player, and it speaks clearly to the fact that those who wear this uniform have a responsibility to Major League Baseball and there's very much a social component to that," said Farrell, who added that he addressed the team.
"If you look back there's a number of occasions, he's frequently done it, no one paid attention to it."
Farrell said he does not believe there is a problem with homophobia in major league clubhouses, while Anthopoulos believes this incident can eventually become a positive.
"It's a range of emotions. I think what came out from all of this is a lack of education. I know it's not just an issue in sports. It's an issue in life," Anthopoulos said. "Just when you even speak to him and some of the groups that are going on, it's clear that the problem isn't going away, and this is just an example of it. It's not getting solved today, this is just an example of it."
Anthopoulos defined the problem as an issue with language and sensitivity.
"Like Yunel talked about from a Latin prospective, the word is used a certain way, it doesn't make it right," Anthopoulos said. "But I don't think it's specific to one culture, one place, one dialect. There's been other examples in sports and society. It's something world-wide, and that's why these groups exist.
"At the end of the day, if the Blue Jays become a vehicle to get the word out to improve things, to make things better, as unfortunate as all this is, hopefully some good will come from it."
Escobar was traded from Atlanta to Toronto in July 2010. He is hitting .251 this season with nine home runs and 49 RBIs.
The Blue Jays have club options on Escobar for 2014 and 2015.
After the news conference, Escobar walked back into the Toronto clubhouse and said little.
"You have to respect the way things work here," Blue Jays pitcher Carlos Villanueva said. "But sometimes it has to happen in the first-person point of view for us to change the way we view things.
"I know he's extremely embarrassed, we're extremely embarrassed for him, we know it's not an easy thing. I know he doesn't want to deal with it, but he has to. He has to step up, especially how things are nowadays. You just have to watch what you say, or what you express out there."
Mike Mazzeo is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.