NEW YORK - Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar apologised on Tuesday after he was suspended three Major League Baseball (MLB) games for sporting a homophobic slur on his face during a recent game.
A contrite Escobar faced a crowded news conference at Yankee Stadium, where the Blue Jays were due to begin a three-game series against New York, to apologise and explain.
"I didn't intend to be offensive. It's something I just put on the sticker on my face as a joke. Nothing intentional was directed at anybody in particular," the 29-year-old Cuban said quietly through an interpreter.
"I don't have anything against homosexuals. I would like to apologize to anybody offended by this."
Escobar, whose suspension was handed down by the Blue Jays, took the field for last Saturday's game against the Boston Red Sox with an offensive slur written in Spanish on black stickers players wear under their eyes to reduce the glare from the sun.
The message did not become an issue until photographs of Escobar surfaced on the Internet on Monday, which revealed the slur and triggered a wave of criticism in Toronto and beyond.
"The suspension is the result of his decision to display an unacceptable message while participating in a major league game," the Blue Jays said in a statement. "The Blue Jays want to reaffirm that discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated."
The Blue Jays said Escobar would donate his pay from the three games to an outreach initiative and participate in their efforts to help educate society about sensitivity and tolerance to others based on their sexual orientation.
Escobar, whose suspension begins immediately, said he often writes messages on his eye black and that this one was scribbled on about 10 minutes before the game without much thought.
"I didn't mean for this to be interpreted this way by the gay community. I apologise," he said.
Asked what the message meant to him, Escobar said, "It's something said around by Latinos. It's not something that's meant to be offensive. It doesn't have the significance to the way that it's being interpreted now.
"That's a word used often within teams. It's a word without meaning the way we use it."
The word, however, holds a negative connotation, something Escobar did not understand, according to Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos.
"The problem is one of education, language and insensitivity," said Anthopoulos. "There have been other examples in sports, society.
"If the Blue Jays become a vehicle, if Yunel becomes a vehicle to make things better, hopefully something good will come from it."
The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) issued a statement backing the decision.
"Today's actions show that MLB and the Toronto Blue Jays are committed to creating an environment that all fans and families can enjoy, not a place where discriminatory language and anti-gay attitudes are accepted," GLAAD President Herndon Graddick said. (Editing by Frank Pingue)