The Yunel Escobar Eyeblack Scandal

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Baseball is supposed to be a place where fans can get away from the everyday. No matter what stresses may trouble people, for nine innings fans can escape and enjoy watching their favourite team on the field.

Baseball is not supposed to be a place where you discover one of the players on your favourite team was a virtual billboard for a homophobic slur. It’s not a place where morals and human rights should come to a head … and yet here they are doing exactly that.

If you follow @James_in_TO on Twitter, you know first-hand that James is a big Blue Jays fan. He’s there nearly every Blue Jays game snapping great pictures and posting them on Twitter for everyone to enjoy.


I’ve been fortunate to meet him on a few occasions, and he was even generous enough to let me sneak down beside him and catch the last few innings next to him in some spectacular seats at the Rogers Centre.

So I can’t even imagine what it must have felt like when he came across a photo of Yunel Escobar with a homophobic slur written in Spanish in eyeblack on his face. James must have been shocked to learn one of the players he watches over 80 times a year had such a shocking phrase on his face.

Suddenly, it’s not even about the game of baseball any more.

What once was a fun past time has now transformed into a soapbox for someone to display their beliefs to the entire world. And frankly, it makes me sick.

All I can say is Yunel Escobar should be ashamed of himself. It’s absolutely inexcusable to think that somebody could get away with something like that, and thankfully the keen eye of James didn’t let it go unnoticed.

Despite some attempts by reporters to get a clear answer as to why Escobar wrote what he did in the first place, we’re left with more questions than answers. Frankly, any explanation Yunel could have given would not justify what he did … it’s simply wrong.

Behaviour or language like that may still be used in locker rooms around the league, but that doesn’t make it acceptable to bring out onto the field. And how much worse does it make it that a statement like that was displayed clearly across a player’s face?

I get that baseball is a sport where emotions are running high. Occasionally, people might say or do things that they wouldn’t ordinarily. That it no way excuses people from their actions, but it’s understandable how someone might have a temporary lapse in judgement in the heat of the moment. If you asked Brett Lawrie, I’m sure he’d go back and do things differently with Bill Miller.

It’s an entirely different thing to the Nth degree that one would not only predispose that they’re going to write a homophobic slur on their face, but that fact that they’d go through with it and display it in public to fans, teammates and opposing teams.


A lot of people are wondering why nobody on the coaching staff or anybody on the Blue Jays roster approached Escobar about what he wrote in his eyeblack. John Farrell said he didn’t notice it, and all we can really do is give John and the players the benefit of the doubt that they simply didn’t know.

Because if they did notice what Yunel did, knew the implications of the statement, and did nothing, then that’s almost as bad as Escobar’s actions. To sit by idly and watch a teammate do something like that makes me question the integrity within the Blue Jays clubhouse.

Ultimately, it was Yunel Escobar’s decision to write that statement on his eyeblack, and he must be held accountable for his own actions. Whether he intended to offend or not, he made a conscious decision the instant he put a pen to his eyeblack stickers. 

Earlier this year, a young man streaked across the field at the Rogers Centre with the phrase “YOLO” painted across his chest. Admittedly, at first I thought this self-indulgent display was quite idiotic … but that was before I found out what “YOLO” actually meant.

This young man’s motivation was that he wanted to cross this off his bucket list … after all, you only live once. In that respect, I kind of admire what he did since he at least had a purpose in mind while running across the field in a Speedo.

As far as I’m concerned, the moment somebody paints a message across their body, they are essentially endorsing that cause … no matter how trivial or controversial it is. YOLO is a rather harmless statement, but what was painted on Yunel Escobar’s face was indefensible, unjustifiable and unforgivable.


Unfortunately, I don’t think the translator did Yunel Escobar any favours at that press conference. It seemed like he just kept reiterating the same point over and over again. “I didn’t mean to offend anybody” was a common response to many of the questions.

It was tough to gather whether Yunel Escobar had any remorse for his actions. But from what his translator said, it sounded like Escobar didn’t think there was anything wrong with what he did at the time … which in my mind, actually makes it much worse.

There is no context which excuses the use of those words, especially from a public figure like Yunel Escobar. These are not things which are tolerated in the 21st century. Homophobic slurs in the workplace should not be taken lightly, and that includes ones used by professional athletes.

If anything, I think these guys need to be held to a higher standard. Yunel Escobar is a public figure, and what he did reflected badly on himself, the Blue Jays, and baseball in general. It truly is a black eye on the face of the organization.

In some realms, what Yunel Escobar did might even be considered a hate crime; so he should consider himself lucky if he only gets a slap on the wrist with a three-game suspension. The media, the fans, and just people in general won’t be as forgiving, though.

I really do commend James for bringing this issue to light, because it couldn’t have been easy for him. Since the offending player was a member of the hometown Blue Jays, one can only imagine how afflicted he was to reveal the photo in the first place.

I mean, this is a Blue Jays blog … and here I am talking about how a Toronto Blue Jays player wrote a homosexual slur on his face. This is now much bigger than the Blue Jays and much bigger than baseball. It’s no longer just a small incident; it’s an issue of human rights.

Sometimes, I think some people forget just how powerful words can be. And sometimes, they don’t even need to be spoken. Words can inspire … but they also have the power to hurt others.

When the dust settles after all of this, I truly hope that Yunel Escobar realizes how badly those words he wrote can hurt people. Because this is one wound which will take an extremely long time to heal.

Ian Hunter

Ian has been writing about the Toronto Blue Jays since 2007. He enjoyed the tail-end of the Roy Halladay era and vividly remembers the Alex Rodriguez "mine" incident. He'll also retell the story of Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS to his kids for the next 20 years.

9 thoughts on “The Yunel Escobar Eyeblack Scandal

  • September 19, 2012 at 5:35 am

    You're overreacting.

  • September 19, 2012 at 12:40 pm

    Undoubtedly it was a stupid decision, and while morally unethical, it wasn't as bad as some of the other things that go on around sports… like beating your wife, speeding drunk at 90mph or killing/shooting people. Dare I mention Penn State? We all need a little perspective. While i certainly dont condone what Yunel did, we cant fully understand the context to which it was done. Prank? Joke? Whatever. The only person who knows the intent is Yunel. People are so quick to judge him based on his actions. From a point of utter dumbness and a lack of judgement, I would agree with them… but to insinuate or imply his intentions is just silly. Ive used the word F****T in jest… in reality many of us have, and those who say that haven't used slurs in life comically or otherwise are liars at best. The difference is, we didnt do it on a baseball diamond in front of millions of people… but the premise remains the same. Bigotry is also a huge issue in todays society… and I've seen plenty of it since this story leaked… from both sides. Yunel was just the catalyst.

    • September 20, 2012 at 12:00 am

      No, it's not the worst thing could have done. But I don't think the Blue Jays could have sat back and done nothing. If there was even an ounce of spite in what what Escobar did, somebody needed to step in and address it.

      What the Blue Jays did sent a message to the league that this type of behaviour will not be tolerated … whether it was intentional or not.

  • September 19, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    This statement has been taken completely out of context in North America. It is a good example of how you cannot literally translate sayings in any culture. For example if I said to you ScrewUncle Sam does that really mean we take the literal meaning? In fact screwing Uncle Sam means much the same thing as what Escobar said.

  • September 19, 2012 at 3:24 pm

    If you want to pretend that all cultures are the same, and that language doesn't have nuance, and that Escobar's intent was malicious — then that is one thing, but I don't think we have all the facts nor will we ever get them.

    If Lawrie, Cecil, even Arencibia had done this I would have been far more upset. Escobar does not appear to speak a lick of English, he is obviously not immersed in the North American culture and while being ignorant is a poor excuse, it does not mean that he was trying to hurt any one.

    It is apparent that people are split on the actual definition of the word (academics, Latin media, Latin baseball players and managers) — it is anything from a meaningless word like 'bro' to a gay slur, but context is everything and I am pretty frustrated hearing people calling for a career beheading.

    If you simply search the word in Twitter to see how people are/were using it before Escobar had it on his face, you can see that it doesn't have the same connotation that some are putting on it. Pretty easy to determine.

    The point is, he now knows it is an unacceptable word to use in North America and he will not use it again. He gets some education out of it and we can move on.

    • September 19, 2012 at 11:53 pm

      Whether Escobar intended to offend or not, I think the big issue at hand is if the language could have been misconstrued, then he shouldn't have written it in the first place. When in doubt … leave it out.

      No matter who you talk to, everybody seems to have an opinion on the severity of those words. Either way, Escobar knowingly wrote something on his face, and he has to be held accountable for it.

  • September 19, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    The closest translation to what was on his eyeblack was "You're a sissy." Would there be anything wrong with that? Of course he's remorseful, he didn't know that some idiot wouldn't mistranslate the word, and then have the press run with it. It's not Yunel's fault, and I'm glad the Jays are supporting him.

    • September 19, 2012 at 3:50 pm

      Did you hear what AA had to say about him this morning? Pretty awful.

  • September 19, 2012 at 4:53 pm

    A nuance is not meant to be taken literally. AA needs to think outside the north American box. This is a culture specific nuance, which intends no maliance.

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