Could Yunel Escobar be any dumber? The 29-year-old starting shortstop for the Toronto Blue Jays drew what is generally interpreted as an anti-gay slur into the eye black he wore during a major league baseball game last week. Predictably, his face was subsequently splashed across the media and Escobar and his team’s owners, Rogers Communications, one of Canada’s largest telecommunications providers, seemed to be taken aback by the resulting criticism.
The phrase in question, “Tu ere maricon” is Spanish slang for “You are a f—-t,” but in some contexts, Escobar explained, it is interpreted as an emasculating insult only. “Amongst Latinos it’s not something that’s meant to be offensive,” Escobar said during a fumbling news conference in which he apologized while insisting he was misinterpreted. “For us it doesn’t have the significance to the way it’s being interpreted right now.”
The Blue Jays PR machine did what PR machines do: Investigations were held, news conferences were called. Escobar offered apologies, all of which appeared disingenuous. Platitudes were shared about cultural differences, sensitivity training, more education for Blue Jays personnel. Escobar was suspended for three games and his salary (approx $90,000 USD) donated to charities. Ouch! Unfortunately, there was never an explanation to the fundamental question: What could he, or his team managers, have been thinking?
The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Escobar and the Toronto Blue Jays for this tepid response. In what world is an anti-gay – or even emasculating – slur acceptable?
The PR Takeaway: Crisis Communications templates are nice, but sometimes actions speak louder than words. The Blue Jays (and Major League baseball, for that matter) need to say they are concerned, and ACT like they are concerned. Stiffer penalties and proactive policies that leave little wiggle room for interpretation about what players can wear on the field might be a step in the right direction… First Amendment rights notwithstanding.