Yunel Escobar stood in front of media microphones and television cameras at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday issuing his apology for wearing an offensive Spanish word on his eye black during last Saturday’s game against the Boston Red Sox.
Though the 29-year-old Cuban ball player maintained that his actions were not intended to insult anyone, they did.
John Hunking included.
As the commissioner of the primarily gay Cabbagetown Group Softball League (CGSL) in Toronto for the past six years, Hunking is unconvinced that the Blue Jays shortstop was sincere in his apology.
“I felt that Escobar was really flat,” he said on Wednesday afternoon. “He kept going on about it being a joke, but who was this joke intended for? I don’t think [his apology] held any weight whatsoever.”
A self-proclaimed fan of Toronto’s team and season-ticket holder for the past five seasons, the CGSL commissioner was stunned to see the unflattering photo of Escobar on Monday night.
“I was utterly shocked,” he said of the moment he saw those words printed under the player’s eyes. “It really threw me for a loop that a) this would happen, and b) that nobody in the clubhouse or even [Blue Jays manager] John Farrell would say anything about this.”
Farrell, who sat on the same stage as Escobar at Tuesday’s press conference, fielded questions alongside his player, but deflected any notion that anyone on the team had seen the offensive message.
Claiming that Escobar regularly writes words of encouragement on his eye black, Farrell suggested there was no reason to suspect that Saturday’s Spanish inscription was anything more than that.
For Hunking, Farrell’s words were unpersuasive.
“He manages the team,” he said. “He’s responsible for how they are supposed to act, and how they are supposed to appear on the field.”
Whatever the circumstance in the Blue Jays’ dugout last Saturday, the CGSL official believes that his favourite baseball team now finds itself in a serious moral predicament.
“Right now they have to do a lot of damage control,” he said. “It wasn’t just about Escobar walking out onto the field with that [written on his eye black], it was the other ball players, his Spanish-speaking friends and teammates who could read and know exactly what that meant who allowed him to walk onto the field.
“It begs the question, do they like him? If they did, why would they let him go out with that on his face? If they saw it and John Farrell didn’t, they should have addressed it with their manager saying, ‘you know what? He shouldn’t be wearing those words on his face.’”
Though the Blue Jays issued a three-game suspension to their wayward shortstop following the incident, Hunking would have liked to see a stiffer penalty.
“Allowing stuff like this to go without severe punishment is saying that it’s acceptable,” he said. “Especially in Toronto, a very gay-positive city, [Escobar’s sentence] is not setting a good example of what Toronto will tolerate.”
According to Hunking, he’s not alone in this sentiment.
“I honestly don’t know if this city will be able to forgive him,” he said. “Listening to the radio last night, I was surprised to hear all of the people calling in feeling that he should not be allowed to play for the Toronto Blue Jays anymore.
“I was overwhelmed with pride at the fact that not just the gay community is feeling this, but a lot of the people who live in and around Toronto are feeling the same way. “
For Hunking, Escobar’s eye-black slur presents a serious problem for homosexual athletes currently involved in any sport.
“I think it’s a steback,” he said with a tinge of sadness in his voice. “It seemed to me like we were making strides. We were seeing it in football and in hockey, especially with [Leafs general manager] Brian and [son] Patrick Burke.
“I’m hoping that the work that the Burkes are doing will have a greater influence and people can look at that rather than looking at what Escobar did. The last thing we want to do is take steps back when we’ve been making progress.”
As for gay athletes currently keeping their sexual orientation a secret, Hunking believes that the Escobar affair certainly won’t encourage them to open up to their teammates.
“If pro athletes come out, they usually do so after they stop playing, which is sad because I think they don’t feel like they can,” he said.
“If this stuff is actually happening in the locker rooms, I don’t think we’ll see a professional athlete come out anytime soon, sadly.”