2012 Villain: Yunel Escobar
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2012 Villain: Yunel Escobar

Nominated for: homophobic slurs and frustrating non-apologies.

Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains: the very best and very worst people, places, things, and ideas that have had an influence on the city over the past 12 months. From December 10 to 19, we’ll unveil the nominees, grouped by category. Vote for your favourites from each batch, every single day! On December 19 and 20 the winners from each category go head-to-head in the final round of voting, and on December 21, we will reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

To recap the Toronto Blue Jays’ 2011 season, we wrote that “the continuing maturation” of shortstop Yunel Escobar was a storyline to follow as the Jays progressed toward becoming a legitimate MLB competitor. Instead, this year what we saw was a startlingly immature display from Escobar that reverberated throughout Toronto’s sports-loving, multicultural, and LGBT communities.

Just as the Jays were finishing off a monumentally disappointing 73–89 season, during a game against the Boston Red Sox on Saturday, September 15, Havana-born-and-raised Escobar decided to write the words “Tu ere maricon” on his eye black ten minutes before stepping onto the field. Spanish-speaking viewers quickly noticed—the phrase roughly translates to “You are a faggot”—and many fans soon stopped paying attention to the game as the real battle began.

“Because of his actions, athletes everywhere—amateur and professional—will continue to remain in the closet, will continue to avoid sports, and will continue to have their sense of self demeaned,” read a press release from OUTSPORT, a Toronto organization to support LGBT involvement in sports. Despite the efforts of institutions like OUTSPORT and Brian Burke’s You Can Play Project, sports culture is still at a point where three words invoked by one professional athlete carry real weight, and can be felt as damaging attacks on both peers and generations of younger players.

It didn’t help much when Escobar tried to explain his side of the story, after receiving a three-game suspension. Besides his problematic attempt to demonstrate his acceptance of gay and lesbian lifestyles by mentioning that he’d hired an interior decorator and a hairstylist who are both homosexual, he raised divisive cultural tensions as well.

“I didn’t mean to say anything. It was not for anyone, and it was not meant to offend,” the then-29-year-old Escobar said through a translator at a press conference on September 18. “It’s just been said around amongst the Latinos. For us, it didn’t have the significance in the way that’s being interpreted. It’s a word without meaning.”

In some Spanish-speaking countries, perhaps. Cuba, where Escobar is from, is not one of them.

Next season, Escobar will play for the Tampa Bay Rays and will only be back in Toronto when the season schedule dictates. But now, he won’t be remembered for the promising shortstop we knew; he’ll always be the guy with egg, and homophobic slurs, on his face.

See the other nominees in the Dividers category:

Sue-Ann Levy

Using her position to deride instead of reason.
  Michael Bryant

An astonishingly tone-deaf response to a tragic death.
  Frances Nunziata

Treating her colleagues like wayward schoolchildren.

Unsubstantiated “Safety Concerns”

Using race as an indicator of crime.
  James Pasternak and QuAIA Alarmism

Undermining Pride Toronto, and Toronto’s commitment to diversity.
  Doug Holyday

Trying to turn an already divided house even more against itself.

Cast Your Ballot