UPDATE — 8:15pm: Patrick Burke sees a silver lining in Yunel Escobar’s homophobic stunt.
The co-founder of the You Can Play project, which aims to make sports teams safer environments for gay players, says the overwhelmingly negative reaction to the incident shows there has been progress in the traditionally homophobic world of professional sport.
“This incident is incredibly disappointing,” Burke says. “But out of that, we’ve gotten to see a very positive reaction that we wouldn’t have seen five or 10 years ago.”
Toronto Blue Jays management will direct some of Escobar’s salary to You Can Play. Burke says he’s not yet sure what they’ll do with the cash.
“We don’t have a firm plan for it because we weren’t expecting it,” he says.
Still, he has a few ideas.
“The Latino community, the LGBT community and the sports community — I would love to take that money and find a way to bring all three together somehow,” he says.
Escobar said he is willing to meet with Burke in Toronto.
“I will move heaven and earth to get there to sit down with him if that’s what he thinks will help,” Burke says.
As a straight ally, Burke believes it’s important he bring a gay athlete or two along with him to get the message across that homophobia in sports is not okay.
Burke says Escobar participated in casual homophobia, and he wants to explain to Escobar that what he did was wrong.
“What you saw in Escobar’s press conference was the translated version of ‘I didn’t mean it that way.’”
However, Burke says he is pleased that Major League Baseball and the Toronto Blue Jays took steps to rectify the situation. But he won’t say whether he thinks Escobar’s three-game suspension is sufficient. “My focus, as always, is on the education side of things, not so much the discipline.
“We’ve seen a real tipping point in the sports world in the last few years — in the culture as a whole,” he says.
Yunel Escobar suspended without pay
UPDATE — 5:15pm: The Toronto Blue Jays will suspend Yunel Escobar for three games without pay starting Sept 18.
The Jays, currently in New York City for a three-game series, will direct Escobar’s forfeited salary to the You Can Playproject and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).
“I’m sorry this happened, and it will never happen again in my career,” Escobar, accompanied by a translator and speaking in Spanish, said in a press conference.
Blue Jays management, not Major League Baseball, made the decision to suspend Escobar.
The Jays’ general manager, Alex Anthopoulos, stresses the importance of education. He says he believes the suspension won’t fix the problem, but it is a start. “I don’t know that there’s a right way to deal with these things.”
Meanwhile, Escobar says he agrees with the suspension. “I don’t have any problem with that.”
Escobar insists that he has nothing against the gay community and that gay people he knows were not offended by his actions. “I have friends who are gay. The person who decorates my house is gay; the person who cuts my hair is gay.”
Escobar says the words have a different connotation in Spanish and were not meant to be offensive. “It was a joke,” he says. “It was my idea and it wasn’t directed at anyone in particular.”
According to manager John Farrell, no one on the team took notice of the slur because Escobar always writes something on the black tape worn beneath his eyes.
“Initially, it’s a surprise from what I know of Yunel as a person,” he says.
According to a Blue Jays press release, Escobar will “participate in an outreach initiative to help educate society about sensitivity and tolerance to others based on their sexual orientation.” He will also take part in a sensitivity training program.
“The Toronto Blue Jays do not support discrimination of any kind nor condone the message displayed by Yunel Escobar during Saturday’s game. The club takes this situation seriously and is investigating the matter.”
The statement also reveals that general manager Alex Anthopoulos will attend a news conference about the issue this afternoon in New York City, where the team is beginning a three-game series. Escobar, manager John Farrell and coach Luis Rivera are also expected to attend.
At this point, it’s unknown whether Escobar wrote the words himself or whom they were directed toward.
Cuban-born Escobar has been with the Blue Jays since 2010.