Two public figures found themselves in the doghouse this week because of “word choice” issues. In one case, the backlash was perfectly appropriate; in the other, the discipline far exceeded the crime.
First, here’s where they got it right: The Blue Jays and Major League Baseball showed good judgment in coming down hard and suspending shortstop Yunel Escobar for his homophobic slur. If anything, I’d be tempted to suspend Escobar for the rest of the season because he actually uttered, “(but) I have friends who are gay” as a defense.
Yunel is not a kid (He’s 29), and as a professional athlete, he had to be aware of what happened to Kobe Bryant, when he made the same kind of homophobic comment last year.
On the other hand, I think they got it wrong when broadcaster Allan Pinkett was suspended for his comment, “Notre Dame needs more criminals.” Why? Because Pinkett, a proud Notre Dame grad, clearly used the word to suggest that ND’s football team would benefit from having more “tough guys” on their squad. In much the same way, if you heard a high school athlete say, “We’re going to play like ‘gangstas’ today!” that wouldn’t mean he was channelling his inner Al Capone. It would mean he was going to try to be aggressive on the field.
What’s the difference between the two scenarios? In the first, Escobar’s callous comment is offensive to all of us, and it is particularly hurtful to members of the gay and lesbian community. In Pinkett’s case, while his phrasing was less than polished, it’s hard to imagine someone who has done hard time as saying, “Wow, I am really offended by that comment, Allan!”
Hamlet is remembered for, “Words. Words. Words.” If Shakespeare were writing today, I wonder if he might add, “Context. Context. Context.”