Bull Penned: It’s not all eye-black and white

Baseball is a complex sport. So much so that an entire branch of statistics and mathematics known as “sabermetrics” was developed to further complicate the already flooded world of baseball numbers. To match such a mind-numbingly broad universe of statistics is an equally daunting rule book that explains the finer points of the classic game. What that massive tome fails to touch upon is what is often referred to as the ‘unwritten rules of baseball’. For the most part, they are well known among baseball aficionados: don’t steal signs, don’t steal with an enormous lead and certainly don’t share a locker with Barry Bonds. Clear as day, right? Well what about when a player flubs on something that isn’t game related? What happens when politics and culture clashes make their way to the diamond and begin to rub people the wrong way?

Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar made news Saturday, Sept. 15 when he wrote a short message on his eye-black (the black sticker placed under the eye to fight glare). It read “Tu ere maricon.” To those with basic Spanish, or to those who have ever seen any movie with Danny Trejo, you already know what this means. For everyone else, it roughly translates to “You are a faggot.” Big mistake.

Escobar, in a news conference, said that he did not mean for the message to be offensive. How could Escobar not know, you ask? It’s 2012 and that word is now on par with such bigoted vocabulary as the N-word. Escobar was forced to take a three-game suspension by his club, and given the public spanking he deserved, but while punishment was required, Escobar’s intentions may not be to blame.

Upon reflection, you have to realize that Escobar, while not a kid at 29-years-old, was just a casualty of a culture shock.  Escobar hails from Cuba, and needed a translator present at his press conference. English is not his forte. I can understand that what he says back home may carry a different significance here in Canada but that isn’t an excuse for the offense it caused. Having said that, Escobar should not be branded as a homophobe or bigot.

I’ve been to Cuba. I’ve been called a “maricon” and it had nothing to do with my Speedo. On the flip side, I had a Yunel Escobar moment myself while there. I’d signal the bartender by holding up my index and pinky finger in a “rock-on” fashion was my way of ordering two beers at the pool-side bar. Innocent enough, yet to Cubans, this hand gesture signifies your wife is cheating on you. Cubans don’t take lightly to that. I was told privately by the bartender that such a gesture is offensive. Thank Fidel I was a good tipper, otherwise I would have drinking spit-coladas all week.

Escobar is by no means a John Rocker nor is he Fred Phelps. He made an innocent mistake. What you can and can’t write on your face is one of those grey areas that aren’t fully explained within the MLB rule book. Let’s move past this. Poor guy has it bad enough that he plays for Toronto, must we flog him some more? Escobar now knows to be careful. For all we know, he could have just meant “You are a bushel of twigs.” Look it up.


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