I don’t think you should be that offended by Yunel Escobar.
Frankly, because I don’t think the intent was to offend. If that sounds trivial to you, don’t bother reading the rest of this.
When I think about it, can’t help but think about what possible motive a professional baseball player would have to voluntarily write on his face a flagrant sexual slur. I’ve been in many locker rooms in my day and there has always been crude humor in locker rooms, but that humor usually never makes it beyond the walls of the locker room because the people inside know it’s offensive to the people on the outside. This is not to say that the people in locker rooms are all homophobic and that’s why the use crude humor. To jump to that conclusion is a common and judgmental mistake. No, professional athletes are not homophobic, racists, or religion intolerant. If anything, they are some of the most tolerant people I’ve ever been around. They joke openly about all manner of loaded subjects because they are comfortable enough with each other to do so. Rarely does anyone get offended, and when they do, the matter is resolved quickly and professionally because they all know each other personally, and the person behind the words. That’s something that can’t be said for most groups beyond a locker room. Many of the groups arguing about the intended meaning of the words we use daily have never and will never meet.
There are those that argue about that locker rooms represent the last bastion of humanity’s dirty, offensive past. Actually, I think it represents a promising future. There will always be words that carry the power to offend. This is because all communication is equal parts sender meaning and receiver meaning. Furthermore, how each communication’s meaning is received is highly contextual. Because these things will never change; because people can never truly know what another person will call to mind at the thought of any word spoken (even the basic word “Dog” can mean anything from poodle, to greyhound, to tired, to slut) I don’t think we will ever live in a world where all offensive language is stomped out. What is offensive is constantly evolving right along with us.
That’s why, if not for the sake of a better world, at least for the sake of our own sanity, we must consider intent and context before we get offended at, well, just about anything. If you try hard enough to be offended and self righteous (and ultimately hypocritical) you will most certainly succeed. Language is a crude way to share one’s understanding of the world. Even the best wordsmiths find it wanting at times. Therefore, in the sake of the Yunel Escobar fiasco, I think we owe it to him and to ourselves to consider what was intend by the words before we raise the flag of malicious racial slur, and our own judgmental hate.
The word Maricone in Spanish has multiple meanings: wuss, pussy, faggot, and others. But lets just work with these three since I believe that pussy or wuss was probably the intended translation here. Yunel wrote it on his eye black himself, where he usually writes other such motivational and snarky quips. I think it makes sense to look at the word as pussy, which is the crude, uber masculine, and admittedly sexist way of saying wuss. Inside the locker room, this would probably not make the team bat it’s eyes twice. It might be sexist to other receivers of the word that take it to mean a very different thing, but inside the closed group of the locker room, It does not carry the same weight. This is why context is important. Again, most of the time players are savvy enough to know not to use locker room talk outside the locker room, if not for the sake of media fall out, at least for the sake of their kids and wives. You may scream hypocrisy here, but, mind you, a person’s use and understanding of what language means in one group does not make them sexist, racist, homophobic or intolerant. It simply means they have used language that can be construed as such by another group with different definition. And that’s precisely what happened here. Yunel’s words made it Outside the locker room, where cameras could zoom in and caught it. Of course the worst possible translation would be derived because drama makes for ratings. Offensive is good for the media business. What I believe was probably meant to be anything but a pointed attack to slur the gay community is no exactly that.
Given that communication is the way it is, Yunel really should have known better. It’s difficult to be in the public eye because you must be everything to everyone. More so now than ever with Twitter and Facebook giving everyone a way to critique you. That’s why I think Yunel should have known better. He should have known this could be taken offensively to others—a standard self check all public figures must perform before going into public.
What I won’t say is that there is no place for language like what he wrote anywhere in our culture because that’s not true. Rappers are paid well for offensive language. Comedians are paid well for offensive language. Religious books are full of offensive language. Someone will surely find the fact that I just wrote this offensive! You can’t rid the world of it, and to think you can rid a locker room of it, where a group of individuals have developed their own style of speak specific to them, is ludicrous. I will say that it has no place on the playing field of major league baseball, or in other communities where it is unwelcome or undesirable. But that is for each community and group to decide for itself under it’s own right to interpret free speech.
I do not condone what Yunel did. I think it was stupid and ill conceived. I do not, however think it was malicious and I see a lot of people refusing to accept that simply because they want a reason to project their own feelings into an issue. In many ways, it’s not longer about Yunel, but about these people who need to scream offense the loudest. I have learned this is natural in sports. If it was only about the competition, there would be a lot less call in radio in the world. People use sports and a jumping off point to express all manner of judgments about individuals they’re no more connected to than a keyboard or a television screen.
People say that in other professions, a miscommunication of racist, sexual, or religious implications is a reason to be fired. To that I ask, should it be if the intent to offend is not there? Because if we are all subject to judgement based on anything we say or do that could potentially offend anyone around us, we are not actually working towards a world of more tolerance, but to one well camouflaged intolerance. Words can offend, but the do not, to quote the old child’s rhyme, “break our bones.” If you are going to ask for awareness on the the part of the speaker, you must also ask for it on the part of the receiver.