'Yunel Escobar' photo (c) 2011, Keith Allison - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Tu ere maricon.

Until a couple of days ago, I had no idea what those words meant.  In middle school and high school, I didn’t take Spanish.  The town I grew up in had large Swedish and Italian populations, plus a growing Puerto Rican population.  Given the number of Spanish speaking classmates I had growing up, it probably would have made quite a bit of sense to take Spanish, but I didn’t.  I chose to take French instead.  I’m not sure why I chose one language over the other, but for some subjective reason of which I’m no longer aware; I did it anyway.  I’ll just chalk it up to me wanting to go against the grain of my peers.  In hindsight, it was a pretty boneheaded move.  I wasted six years taking a language I will never use.  At this point, the only phrases I can remember are “Je suis Batman,” and “Ou est la bibliotheque?”  Ah, yes.  That was time well spent…

I’ve been a fan of baseball as long as I can remember.  Seeing players wear eye black is something I’m used to, and often don’t think twice about seeing it.  In recent years, players have moved away from traditional eye black, and moved to the eye black stickers.  I’m not a huge fan of the stickers, but I understand why so many have switched.  Clean up is easier, it doesn’t run, and you can personalize it.  Players in all sports have found clever ways to put meaningful religious phrases, or messages to loved ones on them.  It’s become so common that we don’t even notice what’s written on them anymore.  It’s almost expected, and we’ve become numb to it.  If a player writes something in a foreign language on his eye black stickers, forget about it.  We won’t even think twice.

That is, of course, until recently.

Yunel Escobar’s decision to write an offensive homophobic slur on his eye black stickers changes an awful lot for me in terms of baseball watching.  I’ll no longer be able to watch a baseball event, notice writing on a player’s eye black, and not wonder what it means.  Is there a nefarious political meaning behind that biblical passage he’s citing?  What is the translation of that phrase?  Questions will continue to abound for me.  Perhaps that seems crazy to you; paranoid even.  You could be right.  Maybe you’ll notice a greater awareness for these things for a short period of time before eventually moving on.  Please understand that I can’t.

As many of you already know through your interactions with me either personally or on Twitter, I’m gay.  To those of you who didn’t know until now…well, now you do.  Hopefully, that won’t cause you to stop reading this site.  If it does, that’s your problem and not mine. To get you to understand how this affects me, I’ll have to get personal.  I need you to understand me because only then will you understand the effect Escobar’s actions had on me.

My friends would likely classify me as a masculine guy.  Some have called me a “guy’s guy.”  I love baseball (along with several other sports), weight lifting, eating ethnic foods, making crass/inappropriate jokes, and drinking really good beer.*  I enjoy making jokes at my own expense, and I’m rarely offended by the comments of others.  For instance, many people on Twitter know of my long, undying love for Dan Uggla to the point where someone has actually created a fake Twitter account–@DanUgglasArms–that is designed to stalk and tease me about my hard core crush on the Braves second baseman.  Rather than get irritated about it, I play along.  I send it joking love notes ever so often.  Life is too short to take things too seriously.

* For those of you wondering, I’m drinking Stone’s Russian Imperial Stout as I write this.  It’s delicious.  

Unlike a lot of masculine gay guys, being masculine isn’t something I take pride in.  It’s just who I am.  I feel like I’d be just as happy being less traditionally masculine if that’s who I truly was.  While I don’t advertise my sexual orientation, I certainly don’t hide from it.  I don’t allow it to define me, but still, I embrace it.  To me, being gay is only one part of me.  I don’t consider myself to be a gay man; but instead, a man who happens to be gay.   I can’t change who I am.

Throughout high school and most of college, I suspected that I might be gay.  I was absolutely terrified about being found out, so I chose to ignore it out of fear.  I chalked it up to being nothing more than a passing phase.  It wasn’t, but allowed me to live my life “normally”–or what I thought was normal.  Despite my suspicions, I “dated” (if you could call it that) a few girls in high school, and that continued into college.  In my third year in college, I met a great girl.  We started seeing each other, and connected pretty strongly.  It wasn’t long before our relationship became serious.

For the first few years our relationship was very rewarding.  We loved and cared for each other very deeply, and seemed to compliment each other very well.  Sometime during year four, things changed once I slowly started to figure out my sexual identity.  It was a very confusing time for me.  I tried to deny it, but I couldn’t.   I became depressed and ashamed, and started neglecting my relationship.  By year five, we rarely talked unless it was to argue.   As contentious as it was, I couldn’t end it because of what it meant for me personally.  Instead, I forged ahead  After four-and-a-half years, she finally couldn’t take anymore and ended our relationship.  I was both devastated and relieved.  On one hand, she’d freed me of having to tell her something that would certainly break her heart.  On the other hand, I was forced to deal with my demons.

Despite my new found freedom, I chose to spend the next year ignoring my sexuality.  I continued to pretend I was straight.  I didn’t date anyone else, and I made sure everyone knew I wasn’t interested in doing so at that time.  In May 2005 (about a year after my relationship ended), I decided to take a job in the Washington, DC.  I looked at it as a fresh start.  I didn’t know what that would entail, but I was very happy about the direction of my life.  That first summer I spent alone in a new city.  I had no friends, no life outside of my job, and a ton of time to dwell on my feelings.  It was a somewhat dark period for me that resulted in me finally coming out to my two closest friends in August.  Other friends, family, and select co-workers soon followed.

Unlike a lot of people, my coming out process was a piece of cake.  After hearing several horror stories, I realize that I’ve been very lucky.  In a lot of ways, I’m not sure why I waited so long.  No one really seemed to care, although many were surprised.  I did receive a couple of very funny reactions.  My brother jokingly asked, “Does this mean you don’t like baseball anymore?,” and my best friend sarcastically said something along the lines of, “So how long until you start dating a latin pool boy named Paco? I laughed at both of them.  Along the way, no one treated me differently because I never changed.  To them, I was the same Chip I’d always been.  Now, they knew this other part of me I’d always hidden.  With a few people, it actually made our relationships stronger as a result because I didn’t feel like I needed to hold anything back.

Over the next several months, I dated with minimal success.  In May of 2006, I met a tremendous guy, and we started seeing each other.  I fell for him very quickly, as did he fall for me.  Things were very easy and comfortable, and for the first time in my life I finally felt free of my inhibitions.  With him, I didn’t feel as if I needed to hide.

For the first two years we spent every weekend (and as many of our other free moments) together.  Soon after, we moved in with each other, and eventually bought a house together.  For nearly six years, we had an incredibly rewarding relationship.  We supported each other through job changes, personal disputes, deaths in the family, etc.  Despite whatever was going on in our lives, we were always there for each other.

When you’re with someone for six years, you go through a lot of crap together.  You grow a lot, especially during your 20s and early 30s.  You hope to grow together, but sometimes you grow apart.  Sadly, we grew apart.  As difficult it as it was to say goodbye to the man I loved, it was necessary for the both of us to continue growing.  We remain amicable.  Hopefully, we’ll be able to call each other friends someday, but until then it’s a lot of work getting to that point.  Regardless, I’ll never regret a single moment that I was with him.  I learned a lot from him about not only myself, but also love and relationships.  I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be where I am now (and certainly not writing this column) without his support.  For that, I’m grateful.

If you’ve gotten to this far, you might be wondering what my life confessions have to do with Yunel Escobar’s homophobic slur.  While it’s a fair question, the answer is pretty simple:  everything.  In making his remark, which is translated as “You’re a faggot,” he is making a prejudicial judgment on my life.  He is denigrating the life I’ve created; criticizing me for the man I am; claiming homosexuality makes one weak or less than a man; and belittling my (and every other gay man and woman’s) struggles with coming to term with their sexuality and finding a place within society.  While I don’t begrudge him his right to have his own set of beliefs (as much as I disagree with them), I find his actions to be both inappropriate, disgusting, and reprehensible given the public nature in which he displayed them.  It’s bad enough having my personal liberties and rights being debated daily by Presidential, Congressional, state, and local politicians over my right to marry, adopt, or receive equal employment protections under the law.  The last place I would hope or want to see this is on the baseball field, a place I go to escape reality.

Earlier today, Escobar finally offered an explanation for his remarks.  Here’s what he had to say:

“I’m sorry for the actions of the other day … it’s not something I intended to be offensive … it’s just something I put on the sticker on my face … it was nothing intentional directed at anyone in particular.  ‘I have friends who are gay,’ I have nothing against homosexuals … I am sorry what will happen and it will never happen again in my career. It is a lesson I have learned … I didn’t mean for this to be misinterpreted by the gay community. I apologize.”

Oh, thank god.  He has gay friends!  I guess all is fine now.  Phew!

I’m sorry, but his explanation is tantamount to dropping the n-bomb and saying, “No, seriously.  It’s cool.  My black friend and I say it to each other all of the time.”  No really, man.  It’s not cool.  It’s actually disgusting, and you should be ashamed of yourself for saying it.

Furthermore, let’s assume he does actually have gay friends for a second.  How does he feel his gay friends feel about him using the term “faggot” on his eye black?  I can’t imagine they’d be terribly impressed or forgiving of such actions.  Sure, he claims it’s just a “joke,” but if that’s what he considers a joke; his sense of humor is clearly lacking.  I wonder how would he feel if a crowd of people shouted “faggot” every time he came to the plate?  What would his reaction be?  Would it change if the crowd of people claimed they were only “joking?”

Let’s be honest, it’s pretty clear he was neither using the term to signify a cigarette as the Brits do, nor was he using it’s original definition, “a bundle of sticks tied together.”  The statement on his eye black was clear.  His intentions were clear.  His feelings on homosexuality are pretty clear.  Regardless of how widely the phrase is used in latin culture, he chose to use it.  If he really didn’t have an issue with homosexuals, he never would have written that phrase on his eye black.  In fact, he likely wrote it in Spanish because he didn’t think anyone would notice.

Like most apologies for racist, prejudicial, or insensitive remarks, it comes off as hollow.  While it’s possible Escobar is being sincere, I doubt it.  As I mentioned before I sense his actions reflect his belief, although I don’t know for sure.  I’d actually rather he own up to his actions and admit it rather than go through the rigamarole of a fake apology.  I realize it looks good on the surface, but it’s meaningless if sincerity is lacking behind it.  I’d rather hear nothing at all.

Consequently, this brings up another issue:  when will a baseball player finally come out while playing?  The answer to that question is very cloudy at the moment.  While it seems somewhat strange that gay men and women are coming out in droves in all walks of life, including the military, that no one seems willing to step forward as the first among the four major American sports.  A lot of that is the macho American culture, and of course, religion also plays a role.  Furthermore, Escobar’s most recent actions shine a light on a problem that seems more prevalent than ever before.

Despite a growing number of athletes coming out in favor of gay activism and rights campaigns, there are still far too many intolerant people within the sport who disagree with that sentiment.  We’re talking players, coaches, scouts, members of front offices, and fans.  It will be hard enough dealing with the personalities in the clubhouse (many of whom will be hostile), but the media will be all over him.  A spotlight like no other will be shining on him at all times.  The first time he’s seen out with a man, TMZ will be there.  If his boyfriend is caught kissing another man in the park, ET will report it in seconds.  All semblance of privacy and decency will be gone.  Hell, imagine the first time the first openly gay baseball player steps into the batters box in a crucial situation in a particularly hostile environment.  It will be brutal.  The term “faggot” might actually be one of the more pleasant things he hears thrown at him.

If you want to know why we haven’t seen a gay Jackie Robinson, this is why.  Pressure, prejudice, malicious threats.  It’s a brutal road to walk.  Many consider closeted players to be cowards.  Perhaps, but who can really blame them.  When players like Escobar are cryptically spreading homophobic slurs, I can’t imagine many feel comfortable coming out to even their closest friends on their team.

I don’t want it to seem like I’m saying Escobar is *the* problem.  He’s not, but he’s definitely a symptom of a larger problem.  We place too much focus on sexuality and the erroneous and overblown stereotypes associated with homosexuals like myself.  We’re really no different than our heterosexual brethren.  Until we learn to move past these forms of prejudice, we’ll continue to deal with situations such as this one.  It’s sad state of affairs.  Hopefully, baseball and it’s players will learn from Escobar’s mistake, so this doesn’t have to happen again.

Yes, the words “Tu ere maricon” are just words.  And yes, we give meaning to these words.  Still, the clear malicious intent and emotion behind Escobar’s words are what make this situation so hurtful and offensive.  This situation isn’t about sexual orientation, or even sex in general.  This is about life, and the intolerance people have for the life I’ve created.  I’m happy with who I am, and it’s taken me a long time to get to this place.  I’m not going to let someone like Yunel Escobar make me feel otherwise.