When Yunel Escobar, then with the Toronto Blue Jays, wore eyeblack with a Spanish gay slur on it, the reaction was intense. Escobar was suspended three games and the team vowed to address homophobia. The latter manifested itself this weekend when Patrick Burke, founder of the You Can Play Project, and Jose Estevez, an openly gay sophomore distance runner on the track team at Boston College, addressed the minor league and major league players for the Blue Jays at the team's spring training camp in Dunedin, Fla.
"One coach told me, I wish we could keep these guys attention like that," Burke told Outsports. "They were listening, they were attentive, they were focused. And on the way out the GM, Alex Anthopoulos, and the manager, John Gibbons, both made it a point to grab us and thank us and tell us how valuable they thought it was."
Some players stayed behind to thank Burke and Estevez. "They didn't just wait until it ended and sprint out," Burke said. "They came up to us and thanked us and thanked Jose, and it showed me they were truly appreciative."
Outsports asked Estevez to share his thoughts as a college athlete addressing a roomful of professional athletes:
As collegiate athletes, we have people idolize us. We have surpassed many in our sports and have the drive and dedication it takes to succeed. We walk around our prospective campuses feeling pretty exceptional.
This weekend, I walked into a room of 160 minor league baseball players one day and 40 Major League players the next and got to feel the other side. I walked in a mere collegiate runner to talk to grown men about homophobia.
I cracked a joke to break the ice -- "At high schools and colleges, I usually start off by saying that I was a two time state champion, but that won't impress anyone here." I then began addressing them, speaking in both English and Spanish. After telling them my hardships of coming out, they no longer looked at me as some semi-talented athlete, but more as a courageous man taking the initiative. The players did not ask any questions but complimented us on how [Patrick Burke and I] did speaking to them.
It was amazing knowing that Patrick and I got to teach a group of awesome ballplayers the effects "faggot" and "homo" -- and their Spanish equivalents -- can have on someone, regardless if they are gay or not. We had guys nodding during our presentation, showing signs of agreement.
The change in attitude from when we walked in to halfway through our speech was incredible. The players went from joking around and using their cellphones to connecting with Patrick and I.
The management was thrilled, especially General Manager Alex Anthopoulos, who thought we did an amazing job and was ecstatic with the players' response. I believe the meeting went well and if we can get to do this throughout the rest of Major League Baseball, we can go a long way to ending homophobia in professional baseball.--Jose Estevez