QNow-former Washington Nationals' infielder Yunel Escobar was suspended for three games by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2012 after the then-29-year-old played with a homophobic slur written in Spanish on the stickers some players use under their eyes to prevent glare from the sun in lieu of traditional eye black.
When the Nationals acquired Escobar in January of 2015, General Manager Mike Rizzo addressed concerns about Escobar's history, telling reporters, including Washington Post writer James Wagner, that the Nats did their due diligence before the deal, which included talking to former teammates and personnel with the Tampa Bay Rays -- where Escobar played for two years before being traded to the Oakland A's, briefly, and then on to Washington -- before deciding he would make a good addition to the team and clubhouse:
"Those [transgressions] that he’s had, they’re well-documented," Rizzo said. "We’re not going to be an apologist for poor behavior, but that was years ago when he was a younger kid and we believe he has matured. He’s matured into a good player, he’s matured into a much better teammate over the past couple years. We’ve vetted him quite a bit, we’ve done a lot of due diligence on his character and makeup, and we’re satisfied he’ll fit in in the Nationals clubhouse. Don’t forget, this clubhouse is second to none I’ve been a part of in my time in baseball. Players police players. We’ve got the leadership core group in there that’s not going to let anyone upset the boat or not be focused on our ultimate goal."
On Thursday night, the Nationals signed veteran infielder Daniel Murphy to what is reportedly a 3-year/$37.5M free agent deal, acquiring the left-handed bat/second baseman they'd been after all winter, after trying to sign Ben Zobrist and then trying to trade for Brandon Phillips (who is right-handed, yes) before Zobrist signed with the Chicago Cubs and Phillips and the Cincinnati Reds reportedly failed to agree on compensation that would convince him to agree to waive his 10-5, no-trade rights.
Murphy, of course, made headlines last Spring when he talked to reporters about MLB's inclusion ambassador Billy Bean suiting up and spending time with the New York Mets in the dugout and clubhouse to help, as NJ.com's Mike Vorkunov explained, "...raise awareness of what he had endured," as a gay major leaguer who, "left the sport after feeling the burden of his secret, unable to divulge it until his career was over."
Murphy said he thought bringing Bean in was "forward thinking," and would allow players to get to know an individual by spending time with them as opposed to attending a seminar or listening to a lecture.
As a devout Christian, Murphy, Vorkunov wrote, "said he would embrace Bean despite a divergence in their beliefs.":
"I disagree with his lifestyle," Murphy said. "I do disagree with the fact that Billy is a homosexual. That doesn't mean I can't still invest in him and get to know him. I don't think the fact that someone is a homosexual should completely shut the door on investing in them in a relational aspect. Getting to know him. That, I would say, you can still accept them but I do disagree with the lifestyle, 100 percent."
He added that he viewed Bean's visit, "... as an opening for a conversation and an avenue to get past stereotypes," and argued against the perception that Christian players wouldn't accept gay teammates:
"Maybe, as a Christian, that we haven't been as articulate enough in describing what our actual stance is on homosexuality," he said. "We love the people. We disagree the lifestyle. That's the way I would describe it for me. It's the same way that there are aspects of my life that I'm trying to surrender to Christ in my own life. There's a great deal of many things, like my pride. I just think that as a believer trying to articulate it in a way that says just because I disagree with the lifestyle doesn't mean I'm just never going to speak to Billy Bean every time he walks through the door. That's not love. That's not love at all."
Bean addressed Murphy's comments directly and succinctly in a post at MLB.com:
"After reading his comments, I appreciate that Daniel spoke his truth. I really do. I was visiting his team, and a reporter asked his opinion about me. He was brave to share his feelings, and it made me want to work harder and be a better example that someday might allow him to view things from my perspective, if only for just a moment.
"I respect him, and I want everyone to know that he was respectful of me. We have baseball in common, and for now, that might be the only thing. But it's a start.
"The silver lining in his comments are that he would be open to investing in a relationship with a teammate, even if he 'disagrees' with the lifestyle. It may not be perfect, but I do see him making an effort to reconcile his religious beliefs with his interpretation of the word lifestyle. It took me 32 years to fully accept my sexual orientation, so it would be hypocritical of me to not be patient with others."
At Nationals WinterFest earlier this month, new Nats' pitching coach Mike Maddux was asked how he viewed Max Scherzer from afar and what he thought of the right-hander "stomping around the mound and swearing at himself" while pitching?
"Love it, man," Maddux said. "I'd rather see a guy with snot coming out of his nose than I would a guy out there being a tinkerbell. Sure, stomp your feet, man, make yourself known. If you hold yourself to a high standard -- you can pitch with emotion, but you can't pitch emotionally. So you get mad, yeah, you stomp it and it's done versus the guy that holds it, holds it in, holds it in, then freakin' snaps, you know. So it's okay to let it out and I like that. Because all you're doing is holding yourself to a higher standard. I'm all for it."
"Tinker Bell" or "tinkerbell", of course, in addition to being the name of a fairy/character in Peter Pan, is, "used generally as a derogatory gay term," as Anthony Slide wrote in a book on the history of the "secret language of homosexuality."
In 1904, Slide noted, when Peter Pan was first produced as a play, "... audiences knew fairies as mythical beings in human form, owners of magical powers," while today, "... even Webster's Dictionary recognizes another meaning."
Is it a denotation vs connotation distinction?
Is there any way to view "tinkerbell" in that quote as anything but a derogatory term? Did Maddux intend to use it as a derogatory term?
Oddly, former Nationals' manager Davey Johnson once used the term "tinkerbell" as well, in 2012, telling reporters that a reliever had a tendency to tinker with his delivery.
"I’m going to start calling him Tinkerbell," Johnson said, as quoted by the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore. "He comes in with all kinds of different little moves. Once the game started, he looked good."
Going back to Yunel Escobar's incident, CBC writer Doug Harrison wrote at the time that, "[s]ome Spanish-speaking people have said since the incident that the phrase," [written on the stickers], "is sometimes used, particularly by men, in a joking way, not in a literal form intended to insult," and Escobar told reporters, "... he has nothing against the gay community and nothing against those who were affected by his comments.":
"I have close friends that are gay, my home decorator is gay, my hair stylist is gay and I have several friends that are gay. And they haven't felt offended about the situation. This is just a language misunderstanding."
Though Escobar's friends might not have been offended, many other people were.
Murphy's comments too, offended many, in spite of the fact that he was, as Bean noted, just voicing his opinion.
Maddux and Johnson, didn't, I'd guess, intentionally use what they thought was a derogatory term.
Johnson's comments were reprinted widely with no one suggesting they were derogatory.
Where Maddux's full quote was printed, some wondered if they were acceptable or could be viewed as anything but derogatory or offensive?
Can you cheer for or support players whose views contradict your own?
While players have been suspended for using derogatory terms, when it came to Murphy's comments, which did not include derogatory terms, Billy Bean wrapped up his article with the following paragraph:
"Inclusion means everyone, plain and simple," he wrote. "Daniel is part of that group. A Major League clubhouse is now one of the most diverse places in sports. It wasn't always that way, but we can thank No. 42 for that. So in his honor, with a little patience, compassion and hard work, we'll get there."
We (and most/many of the SB Nation's sites) have a zero-tolerance policy regarding derogatory or homophobic terms in the comment sections, and I'm sure we'll be chided by some for taking this matter so seriously, but there were more than a few fans in the nation's capital last night expressing their dissatisfaction with the Nationals signing Murphy for reasons other than his defense.
Will the Nationals address these concerns when/if the deal is officially announced? Should they? Is there anything they can say, or that Murphy could say, that would affect your opinion one way or the other?