Last month, Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar started a national discussion about cultural and sexual diversity by writing a homophobic slur on his eye-black in Spanish.
The phrase, “Tu ere maricon,” which translates to “you are a fa–ot” sparked a discussion on two fronts. Not only did it create a discussion about education on homosexuality, it also cause debate in the Spanish-speaking community on the nuance of the derogatory phrase and slang from different countries.
Language and cultural barriers
Escobar was suspended for three games and went through sensitivity training as a part of his punishment for the slur but some felt that punishment was too soft.
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Blane Harding, the director of Multicultural Affairs at the University of Kansas, spoke on Escobar’s punishment and education.
“It was incognizant. He didn’t realize that he was offending a whole group of people,” Harding said. “If he realizes he did something wrong and if he’s open to the education, then education is appropriate. If he’s willing to learn, education can be extremely beneficial beyond a suspension.”
As more and more immigrants from Latin America come into the United States, a trend mirrored in baseball, the need for dialogue between two cultures becomes necessary across the nation. Since 1990 the percentage of Latino players in the MLB has increased from 13 percent to a number that fluctuates around 28 percent according to an NBCsports.com article.
Patricia Manning, professor of Spanish Literature at the University of Kansas, spoke on the difficulties of slang in new cultures.
“There are differences in every country in terms of slang,” Manning said. “Anyone working in a non-native culture will struggle to have a handle on what is appropriate.”
This was brought up by many native Spanish-speakers including Ozzie Guillen, the manager of the Miami Marlins, who defended the word as something his family and children use on a daily basis with no thought of offending homosexuals.
Manning agrees that in certain countries the term “maricon” may not be an offensive word but that Escobar should know better.
“It depends on each person’s experience,” Manning said. “There are families where that is a teasing insult rather than a major offense but anyone who has spent significant time in the U.S should know that isn’t appropriate.”
Homosexuality in sports
Homosexuality has long been a taboo topic in the sporting world. There are very few professional athletes that are open homosexuals and athletes like Escobar, Kobe Bryant and Amar’e Stoudemire have all made very public gay slurs in recent years.
The LGBT group at The University of Kansas held its first education session on gender identity and sexual orientation for the athletic department in August in response to these instances of homophobic outbursts from athletes.
Michael Detmer, the LGBT Resource Center Coordinator spoke on the stigma that surrounds gay athletes.
“In the LGBT world the athletic world is the farthest from that connection between the two environments and a lot of LGBT athletes don’t ever fully disclose their identity or orientation with their teammates because there is just this negative light shined on their orientation,” Detmer said.
While acts of homophobia from famous athletes are not a good thing there can be some silver lining to the offensive acts. In many cases, an athlete’s remarks receive a lot of attention and engage more people in the discussion that normally wouldn’t engage in that type of conversation.
Harding believes that issues of gender and orientation need to be brought to the forefront of national thought before they can be resolved.
“When you take a look at gender and orientation those things haven’t gotten to that point of being aware in society,” Harding said. “Any time you can raise public knowledge and sort of raise discussions and conversations to get the dialogue going people are going to realize they need to change those things.