Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Yunel Escobar press conference: well, that was a complete disaster

If I'm being charitable, there are two things that went right with the 30-minute press conference that ended less than a half-hour ago, where Yunel Escobar and the Blue Jays were asked to explain why he wrote, in Spanish, "you're a faggot/pussy" under his eyes. (You can find the picture in a blog I wrote yesterday, found here.)
  1. He apologized and said it won't happen again.
  2. The Blue Jays will donate money to You Can Play, a Toronto-based charity that combats homophobia in sports.
         Yunel Escobar.

And that's it. And that covers two or three minutes of the content of the press conference. So, what went wrong? All of it, pretty much:
  •  Escobar said the words "didn't mean anything", that he didn't "intend to offend anyone", and it was "misinterpreted". As far as apologies go, this veers dangerously close to victim-blaming. That is, he implied nothing, which means it's our fault for inferring something hurtful. And that's bullshit.
  • Escobar - and his teammate Edwin Encarnacion, via reporter Shi Davidi - said that the slur isn't necessarily a slur, depending on the "context" (Escobar's word, via a translator). Encarnacion said it was a "joke". Right. Just like when someone, for instance, uses "gay" but actually means 'ugly' or 'stupid'? That's a joke too. In no way are they implying an equivalence between "gay" and "stupid". No, not at all. It's just a joke. 
  • And what of "context", anyway? Escobar said it wasn't meant to be read by anyone. (Which is curious, since the manager, John Farrell, said that he often writes words under his eyes, and they're usually inspirational. Which suggests that they can and are meant to be read. But that's not the most egregious failure of communication between staff and players. More on that in a bit...) I don't know whether he's being disingenuous or he's actually that stupid, but there's no explanation that makes sense except to assume that he was directing it at the Boston Red Sox - the team the Jays were playing that day. And if he's directing it at the opposition? Well, that context lends itself to the interpretation that he did mean to call them "fags" or "pussies", and that he did mean it pejoratively. No other conclusion makes sense.
  • That other moment where Farrell wasn't quite credible? It took forever, but one of the reporters eventually asked whether homophobia is a problem in baseball locker rooms. (A classic response to this kind of incident is to frame it as an isolated incident - to invoke the "one rotten apple" fallacy.) And Farrell completely blew it. He said it isn't a problem, but any of us who have played sports at any level know that he's hilariously wrong. As Dirk Hayhurst, the former Blue Jay, wrote yesterday, "Crude, offensive humor is a part of the lexicon of the clubhouse. Always has been, probably always will be." So, let's be honest, at least. Because telling such a transparent lie just totally destroys your believability.
  • And Farrell dropped the ball at least one more time, too. When asked why he didn't notice the words, he said that doesn't pay attention to them, and that no one really does. And he didn't admit that he should be looking - in fact, he took no responsibility at all. That's a catastrophic failure of leadership. The first words out of Farrell's mouth should have been an admission of fault - an admission that he didn't look, but he should have. While, sure, Escobar deserves blame for hilariously poor judgement, Farrell is the guy letting him write on his face and failing to vet those same words. And, plain and simple, he's the boss. A huge part of the manager's job in baseball is to take pressure off of his players, to mediate between players and umpires, players and management, players and media, players and players... But Farrell just threw Escobar to the wolves.
  • This next criticism applies to everyone who was sitting on the panel. Until a reporter said the word "homophobia", not one of them used the word. Escobar and his translator said "gay", (as in, embarrassingly, "my hairdresser is gay") but no one addressed the elephant in the room directly. What they did do was admit that there was a "problem". Repeatedly, Farrell and the GM, Alex Anthopolous, referred to homophobia as "the problem". A problem so serious, evidently, that we can't even refer to it by name. For fuck's sake, guys. Couldn't you have spoken to a subject matter expert or PR consultant before doing this? Couldn't you at least bring a diversity or sensitivity trainer in to coach you? Which leads me to my final point...
  • ...which is that, aside from throwing $90k or so to charity, it felt like the Jays came into this press conference with no plan at all. No talking-points that made sense, no idea of how to talk about the issue, no clear indication that they had received advice or vocabulary (much less some quick mediation or counselling) from a gay rights or equity or anti-oppressive educator. (Hey, Blue Jays! I can even recommend my friend to you!) They. Looked. Totally. Lost. And what might the Jays or Escobar do after the money is donated? I have absolutely no idea. Hope that everyone forgets, maybe? Yeah, that sounds about right.


upforvinyl said...

I don't think this goes away quickly. That press conference was embarrassing to anyone with common sense. It was clear that everyone involved didn't understand what the big deal was.

As an aside, I've been watching American sports media this afternoon and this appears to be a non-issue.

I guess boys will be boys. Right?

neilshyminsky said...

The amount of coverage I've seen that is reporting how "Hispanic people say this is no big deal in their culture", as if that isn't an obvious attempt at misdirection, is astounding, too. We wouldn't buy that if an English-speaker used the same argument, ("seriously, I didn't literally mean he has sex with men. when I said 'fag' I actually meant 'asshole'. that's how I use it all the time!") and we shouldn't buy it because the context makes its meaning undoubtedly pejorative. But sports media isn't really known for asking the tough questions or challenging players when they say stupid things...

...unless you're talking about PEDs. Then they'll get tough.