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Yunel Escobar eye black: Blue Jays player said it was supposed to be a joke

Escobar said that the perceived slur on his eye black was supposed to be a joke. Photo: Associated Press
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NEW YORK (AP) - Yunel Escobar insisted he meant no insult, reiterating that the words he wrote were supposed to be "just a joke."

The Toronto Blue Jays had a different read, suspending their starting shortstop for three games on Tuesday for wearing eye-black displaying a homophobic slur in Spanish during a game last weekend against Boston.

Escobar apologized to his team and "to all those who have been offended."

"It was not something I intended to be offensive," he said through a translator. "It was not anything intended to be directed at anyone in particular."

Escobar said he wrote the message 10 minutes before Saturday's home game on his eye-black, a sticker players wear under their eyes to reduce sun glare. The 29-year-old Cuban said he frequently puts messages there - usually inspirational, manager John Farrell offered - and had never previously written that specific slur.

Escobar insisted the word is often used within teams and by Latinos and "I didn't see it as something bad at the time."

"For us, it doesn't have the significance to the way it's being interpreted now," he said. "It's a word without a meaning."

"I don't have anything against homosexuals," he said, adding he didn't mean for the term to be "misinterpreted" by the gay community.

The suspension - issued after input from Commissioner Bud Selig, the players' union and team management - was to have started Tuesday night. The game between Toronto and New York was rained out and a day-night doubleheader was set for Wednesday.

The penalty was announced in a 26-minute news conference at Yankee Stadium. Escobar wore a jacket and jeans and was joined by Farrell, Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos, coach Luis Rivera and translator Robbie Guerra, a lawyer from the players' union.

Escobar's lost salary during the ban - about $82,000 - will be directed to two advocacy groups, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and You Can Play.

Escobar also will take part in an outreach initiative to promote tolerance to others based on their sexual orientation, and participate in a sensitivity training program.

Pictures posted online showed Escobar with the message written during the Red Sox-Blue Jays game. Farrell said Escobar's notes are often to the effect of "Let's go today." They draw so little attention that nobody caught the change.

"There was no reason to think it was something derogatory," Farrell said.

Farrell said the slur was written in small letters and "if someone had seen it, I would suspect someone would have said something."

Major League Baseball regulations prohibit derogatory words and symbols on uniforms. Writing something of that nature on eye-black would fall under that category, MLB spokesman Pat Courtney said.

The NFL and college football have banned eye-black messages. The college ban came after stars including Tim Tebow, who wrote Bible verses, and Reggie Bush, who put his hometown area code, began to use the eye-black to send messages.

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