A bizarre story began unfolding yesterday afternoon, as a Blue Jays fan who goes by the name James G. posted a Flickr photo he’d taken on Saturday of Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar. As you can see above, the photo shows Escobar wearing the message “Tu ere maricón” on his eye black, which translates to “You are a faggot.”
Shortly after the photo was posted on Flickr, the story got picked up by lots of blogs and major media outlets. Soon my ESPN.com colleague Jerry Crasnick was reporting that MLB is looking into the matter. (For the record, eye black messages of any kind are not permitted under MLB uniform and equipment guidelines.)
There’s a lot of ground to cover here. Let’s start with the guy who took the photo, James G. He posted the following message alongside the photo on his Flickr account:
I have been conflicted about posting this picture since [Sunday] night. I have a privileged seat near the Blue Jays dugout and [it] allows me a close-up of some pretty awesome moments. This one, however, is really disappointing. For those whose Spanish isn’t fluent, have never seen Scarface, or fail at Google, Yunel’s eye black “Tu ere maricón” translates to “You’re a faggot.” There are some small Spanish locales where it translates to “pussy,” not “faggot,” but that’s a very small possibility.
I started asking myself why I wouldn’t just post this image right away. It needs to be seen and it needs to be known that this is not okay. I was concerned that the players may be able to recognize that this was me who took this picture and would therefore rebuff the whistleblower, but this is something Escobar wore on the field. He knew the possibility that a member of the Red Sox [who Toronto was playing on Saturday] noticed it and commented on it, or even the umpiring crew. This is a bad word. It’s a homophobic slur. It may have made a closeted Blue Jay/Red Sox very upset inside. There are a million insults he could have used that would have been funny. This was not one of them.
I was also worried that some Blue Jays fans would accuse me of “rocking the boat” when I should have just ignored it, but that’s a problem with progress. When you hear or see something wrong, it’s up to everyone to let people know that that’s not right. “That’s gay,” “You’re gay,” “You’re a fag,” “You’re a faggot” are not acceptable insults in 2012. They are slurs and we need to get rid of them. When our sports heroes proliferate their usage, our progress takes a step back.
How did it happen? Did Yunel write it? Did someone else write it and Yunel put it on anyway because he found it funny? Would he have ever gotten away with it if it was in English? Was Yunel’s “flu” on Sunday [he was scratched from Sunday’s game with flu-like symptoms] the truth or a disciplinarian action? There are Spanish-speaking coaches [on the Blue Jays] who should have recognized and nixed this immediately as well.
I like Yunel a lot. He’s the one who pays me the most notice when I’m at the games. He points to his fans, tips his cap, and recognizes the support he is given. This was a mistake I hope he learns and he will never make again.
The next person I’d like to hear from is Escobar. But he has not yet commented on this story (I suspect that will change at some point today), so we’re left with a bunch of puzzle pieces to sort through. One at a time:
• First, in case anyone thinks James G.’s photo was Photoshopped, it turns out Escobar’s eye black was also captured in this wire photo.
• This is not the first time Escobar has worn a message on his eye black. On Sept. 2, he wore “Chilling.” Note that the handwriting on the eye black in that photo looks very similar to the “maricón” handwriting.
• Some observers have suggested that Escobar may have been the victim of a prank, but I don’t see how that’s possible. How could anyone not notice something written on his eye black stickers before applying them? I suppose a teammate could have written something on the stickers after Escobar was already wearing them, but that seems unlikely. Even if that’s what happened, wouldn’t Escobar have looked in the mirror to see what had been written? (And if that’s what really happened, then it just means someone else on the Jays has a very fucked up sense of humor instead of Escobar.)
• Another thing I’ve heard is that “maricón” is a common, conversational taunt among Hispanic players and that “it isn’t meant as an anti-gay insult.” I have no idea whether that’s true, but I think it’s beside the point. It’s like a white Mississippian in 1960 saying, “Sure, we call all the colored folk niggers, but we don’t mean anything by it.” It’s basically saying someone should get a pass for belonging to a culture that’s few generations behind the curve of civilization. That doesn’t fly when you’re a major-level professional playing in a diverse, world-class city like Toronto. (As an aside, imagine if a black player had worn “Yo Nigga” on his eye black and then written it off by saying, “It’s how me and my homies always talk.” Not quite the same thing, since that’s one group of people talking about themselves, instead of talking about another group, but it still wouldn’t fly. And if that wouldn’t fly, neither does a slur directed at another group like “maricón.”)
• I’ve also heard a bunch of people suggesting that terms like “maricón” and “faggot” are standard locker room fare, so what’s the big fuss? Fuck that. Just last week we had the story of two NFL players standing up for marriage equality. If the NFL — pretty much the last socially sanctioned bastion of mainstream caveman/troglodyte behavior — can join the rest of the human race here in the 21st century, so can MLB players.
• I know someone is going to claim that the MLB investigation raises “free speech” issues, so let’s deal with that now: No, this has nothing to do with free speech. Can you show up at your job wearing a T-shirt that says, “You are a faggot”? Right, didn’t think so. That’s not a free speech issue; that’s just a basic rule about appropriate conduct in the workplace, and that’s the basis on which MLB is looking into it. Escobar remains free to express as much bigotry as he likes on his own time.
Those are the basics. One thing I haven’t heard mentioned, though, is that the term maricón has a sad history in professional sports. Back in the early 1960s, welterweight champion Emile Griffith was widely rumored (accurately, as it later turned out) to be gay. During the weigh-in for his 1962 title bout against Benny Paret, Paret grabbed Griffith’s ass and said, “Hey, maricón. I’m going to get you and your husband.” The following night, Griffith literally killed Paret in the ring, knocking him out in the 12th round and sending him to the big sleep from which Paret never woke up. (You can get the full story in this excellent Sports Illustrated article from 2005.)
I’ve been called maricón myself. Back in 2007, my then-galpal and I participated in the sixth annual No Pants Subway Ride, an admittedly silly mass-performance-art stunt. Most bystanders accepted it with good humor, but one very angry-seeming guy looked me up and down and hissed, “Fucking maricón.” We got off at the next stop. (I’ve also been called faggot, queer, and gay over the years, primarily by people who think anyone who writes about uniforms must be a homosexual. I think that’s sad, but not as sad as when a guy insults another guy by calling him “bitch,” which makes me depressed for the entire state of humanity.)
Anyway, back to Escobar. A good solution would be for him to do some volunteer work at a gay youth crisis center. And this would also be a good time for the Jays to record one of those “It Gets Better” videos, like the 49ers just did. Meanwhile, this episode offers the latest chunk of evidence — as any more were needed — that real eye black is better than the stickers.
By Brinke Guthrie
This early-1970s Bengals game jersey has a tag for Koch’s Sporting Goods, easily Cincinnati’s finest sporting goods store. Back when I was growing up there, they were always doing work for the Reds and Bengals (and probably still are). Seeing that tag takes me back.
As for the rest of this week’s eBay picks:
• Back in the day, we saw some terrific-looking NFL posters. Here are some of those classic designs, but this time they’re on smaller cardboard placards, from Fleer. Never seen these before. How did I miss them?
• Check out this awesome-looking 1940s Providence Chiefs scorebook!
• These NFL pins from the 1970s look to be for the AFC Central Division at the time.
• Don’t see too many NFL apparel items from Bike, but here’s a clean and classy look for this 1970s Detroit Lions pullover shell.
• Great-looking Dodgers decal here. That’s Brooklyn Dodgers, folks, from the 1950s.
• You might not play hoops like Dr. J could, but you can still wear his shoes.
• Love the look for this 1970s SF Giants BP jersey.
• And finally, staying by the Bay: here’s a great-looking 49ers bobblehead from the early 1960s.
Uni Watch News Ticker: Robert Griffin III once again covered up the swoosh on his pregame warm-up shirt on Sunday, only this time he did it by wearing an unbranded shirt over his Nike compression shirt. … Neglected to mention yesterday that Duke wore solid black on Saturday (from Jordan Bartels). … Here’s a good slideshow of New York City construction workers and how they decorate their hard hats. … And here’s another slideshow, showing how my local transit authority is selling ads on every available space, even stairways. … The newly revealed mascot for the 2014 World Cup is an armadillo. … Here’s another high school with a 49ers-style uni design: Lakeville South in Minnesota (from Nick Mozley and Scott Gurrola). … Here’s another quarterback wearing No. 40. That’s Ed Rutkowski of the 1968 Bills (from Timothy A. Tryjankowski). … Roger Faso notes that Reggie Bush’s shoes were pure white on Sunday. … Lots of sensational photos from the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League here (from Dan Cichalski). … MLB.com ran an online debate on the pros and cons of alternate jerseys (from Jon Ullman). … Here’s an amusingly over-hyped video about the new Knicks uniforms. … New 50th-anniversary patch for Wisconsin hockey (from David Petroff and Nicole Haase). … The NFL and Tide have produced a a series of video clips focusing on the uniform histories of all 32 NFL teams, beginning with the Bears and Packers. Additional installments to come as the season progresses. … Several readers have noticed that those Papa Johns commercials featuring Peyton Manning show Manning wearing a jersey with a Nike swoosh but an old-style NFL Equipment patch. Also: No “Broncos” wordmark on the chest. Also-also: Corporate chain “pizza” sucks. … “Without the correct uniforms, a team cannot hope to win the pennant.” That statement comes from this awesome 1915 primer on baseball uniform design (great find by Todd Radom). … Excellent overview of Knicks uniform history here (from Robert Silverman). … Brief mention of Uni Watch toward the end of this article about a New Jersey high school’s football uniforms (from Bill Erdek). … Indy car driver JR Hildebrand has been driving a 49ers-themed car and wearing a 49ers-style race suit. Of course, they botched the authenticity of suit design by giving him three full sleeve stripes (from Ben Mayberry). … Comrade Robert Marshall has found either the most fucked-up or the most brilliant eBay listing ever. … The Arizona Cardinals NOBs are supposed to fit into that red yoke area on the back of their jerseys, but someone forgot to tell that to whoever sewed on Kevin Kolb’s nameplate. … No photos, alas, but here’s an article about two L.A.-area high schools whose uni numbers were very hard to make out (from Joe Nocella). … Former Mets second baseman Wally Backman, who managed the team’s triple-A affiliate in Buffalo this season, is now up with the big league club as a September coach. His uni number: 86. Very nice. … Meanwhile, the Mets can’t even draw flies at Shea these days, but they’ve nonetheless added some new field-level seats. It’s an experiment in advance of next year’s All-Star Game, which the Mets will be hosting. … The striking Chicago teachers have been wearing softball-style “Chicago Teachers Union” jerseys. … An unusual confluence of uniforms and pop cultural icons in this photo of Bob Hope and Superman, the latter portrayed by Kirk Alyn, who was the first movie Superman. Get Hope some real stirrups! (Thanks, Ricko.) … Good piece about how Purdue’s gold tones have evolved over the years (from David Shepherd). … Logo update for the Idaho Stampede of the D-League — old on the left, new on the right (from Mark Snider). … Someone on the Steelers’ sideline was wearing pink gloves and an Adidas shirt on Sunday (screen shot by Chad Todd). … Florida’s softball team has put out a poster showing 15 team members wearing 15 different uni combos. “I’m counting seven jerseys, four pants, and four stirrups,” says Andrew Lassiter (and I see at least two different belt colors).