It appears Yunel Escobar has finally understood the error of his ways.
On Sept 27, the Toronto Blue Jays shortstop met with gay athlete Jose Estevez and the You Can Play project’s Patrick Burke.
“I think he gets it,” says Burke, whose campaign aims to make sports teams safer environments for gay players.
Escobar, 29, was suspended for three games after wearing a homophobic slur on his eyeblack during a game on Sept 15.
He also agreed to undergo sensitivity training and to donate his docked salary to You Can Play and GLAAD (the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation). The salary amounts to about $92,000. Burke says he hasn’t yet received the money and he doesn’t know how it will be split.
The game day meeting involved only Burke, Estevez and Escobar. Estevez acted as an interpreter for Cuban-born Escobar. The discussion started at 2pm and lasted about 45 minutes.
“It was a great meeting,” says Escobar, who says he learned a lot from the short discussion. “It was very positive.”
Escobar says he now knows that kind of language is not acceptable.
“He made a big mistake and now, I think, he’s sorry for it,” Burke says.
During the meeting, Estevez, a long-distance runner at Boston College who started working with You Can Play in July, shared his experiences as a gay athlete.
“It put a face on the issue for Yunel,” Burke says.
Estevez, who is from Miami, is the son of a Cuban father and a Colombian mother. He expressed to Escobar how the slur could hurt even someone from the Latino community.
“It was a very successful meeting,” Estevez says. “I was able to sit down and really connect with him. I think we made real progress. I felt the sincerity when I talked to him.”
Burke says his conversations with Major League Baseball have also been positive. “I think they handled this issue appropriately.”
Burke expects the league and You Can Play will continue to strengthen their relationship.
“We’ve spoken with the MLB about working with their athletes,” he says. “We’d like to get them when they’re younger.”
As for the Blue Jays, Burke says the organization has been great from the start. “They’ve handled this impeccably.”
On Sept 18, the Blue Jays invited You Can Play board member David Testo to throw the first pitch at the game scheduled for Sept 27.
“I was told to get my throwing arm ready,” says Testo, an openly gay soccer player. He has been involved with You Can Play since Nov 2011.
“I’m here to help make the statement that what happened wasn’t right,” he says.
Escobar, who started the game, caught Testo’s pitch.
Following the meeting with Escobar, Burke met with members of Jays’ management, including president Paul Beeston and general manager Alex Anthopoulos.
Anthopoulos is happy to see progress is being made.
“The organization appreciates both Patrick and Jose,” he says. “It sounds like it was a very productive meeting.”
The incident has left its mark on Escobar’s teammates as well.
“We feel bad about it,” says infielder Omar Vizquel, who is originally from Venezuela and says he empathizes with Escobar.
“It’s a different culture,” Vizquel says.
Manager John Farrell says that’s no excuse for Escobar’s slipup.
“He’s remorseful,” Farrell says. “He knows what took place was a mistake.”
According to Farrell, no one on the team noticed the slur because Escobar had always written something on his eyeblack.
“The times that I have read it have been slogans that have been encouraging,” he says.
Encouraging or not, it’s no longer allowed. That’s because the incident led to a rule change within Major League Baseball that bans all players from writing messages on their uniforms.
The Sept 27 game was Escobar’s first at home since his suspension. The crowd seemed largely indifferent to him.
“I thought he was received fine,” Farrell says. “I didn’t see anything glaring.”
Escobar says he wasn’t surprised that fans didn’t boo him. “In the three years I’ve been here, the fans have been great.”
Burke’s glad to hear this.
“I hope the fans of Toronto are willing to give him a second chance,” he says. “Just a second chance. If there’s a third, we’ll be booing him, too.”