From Comcast SportsNetNEW 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."Mr. Escobar has admitted that his actions were a mistake and I am hopeful he can use this unfortunate situation as an opportunity to educate himself and others that intolerance has no place in our game or society," Selig said in a statement.GLAAD President Herndon Graddick commended 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," Graddick said in a statement.Anthopoulos said he had spent most of the day with Escobar at the commissioner's office."I don't know there's a right way to deal with these things," he said. "You're not going to satisfy everyone."In May 2011, MLB suspended Atlanta pitching coach Roger McDowell for two weeks without pay for inappropriate comments and gestures with homophobic and sexual overtones he made toward fans before a game in San Francisco.In April, Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen was suspended for five games by his team because of comments that he loves Fidel Castro. Many Cuban-Americans were angered by the remarks.On Tuesday, Guillen said he didn't think Escobar meant to be offensive."I think he just did it for fun. I know he didn't mean to hurt anybody's feelings. Nobody is that stupid," he said before the Marlins hosted Atlanta."In my house, we call (each other) that word every 20 seconds. I've got three kids," Guillen said. "For us, it's like What's up, bro? What's up, dude?' It's how you say it and to who you say it. But that's our country. We have to respect this country. Sometimes for us it's funny, for other people it's not."Escobar was traded from Atlanta to Toronto in July 2010. He is hitting .251 this season with nine home runs and 49 RBIs.Escobar's salary this year is 5 million. The Blue Jays have club options on him for 2014 and 2015.
ATLANTA -- Don't think there are any differences in the Wizards under Scott Brooks on offense? That would be wrong. Think they're approaching defense the same way? Not even close. Whether or not these changes produce more wins and a playoff berth will be determined soon enough, but the process begins tonight with the bigs -- namely Marcin Gortat or whoever is in the middle -- making all of the defensive calls.
Last season under Randy Wittman, there was mass confusion. They routinely switched coverages, changed game plans, wouldn't adjust in-game and guards also were making calls to complicate the communication process. The results were busted coverages left and right. Brooks is intent on avoiding that catastrophe so the frontline handles the defensive calls.
"The guards can't see what's going on. We're closer to the basket. We can see the floor. It's kind of like how K.G. was with Boston, directing the defense from the back," said Markieff Morris, projected to be the starting power forward next to Gortat, in referencing the now-retired Kevin Garnett.
Of course with a new coach, the language changes. Some teams call "blue" when they want to do what's called an "ice" of the side pick-and-roll. In other words, send the ball to the baseline. Under Brooks, the Wizards call that "push." Sending the ball-handler to his weak hand results in a call of "weak." Those details really are minor.
What Brooks wants is for the Wizards to follow the ball first and foremost. He doesn't want his defenders preoccupied on the weakside of the floor.
"We want to make sure we load to the ball and get into the paint within the rules," Brooks said. "You only have 2.9 but we want to utilize that. ... We've had a tendency in the past, early in camp, staying next to your man when your man doesn’t have the ball which was not a good thing."
Most teams manipualte the defensive three-seconds-in-the-lane rule to use an extra defender -- usually the center/rim protector at the 2/9 position -- to contain the ball against superior players on the strongside of the floor. It's effectively a zone defense principle but they have to get out of the lane, of course, before a violation is called. That leaves the offensive player on the far side unattended because he's not a major threat from that spot.
"We’re slightly better than we were last year. If we want to win basketball games, everything starts on defense," Gortat said. "We all have this bad flavor from last year. We all know we basically we (expletive) it up, to be honest with you. That’s what we did. You can quote that.
“We've got to be humble, we got to work hard, shut our mouth, don’t talk who we are, who we want to be and how far we’re going to be and stuff like that. Just go out on the court and do it. Just freaking do it. Let our actions speak for us. This is where everything started, having the right schemes from coach Brooks. It made us more comfortable with everything we do. We’re leaving the farthest guy open. We helping each other on the pick-and-rolls. All five of us got to work."
This all requires John Wall and Bradley Beal to work harder on the defensive end. Taking plays off isn't an option, but early on it will be a challenge for Wall who admitted that he has had trouble maintaining that level as he regains his conditioning after missing so much time because of surgeries to both knees.
"The biggest thing is he wants pressure on the ball. Our coverages are a lot simpler than last year. He makes it easy for the defense," said Beal of Brooks' concepts. "It’s really up to the bigs to make the call. The guards got to adjust to that. That’s how it goes. They see the whole defense. They see everything that’s going on behind us so they’re essentially the playmakers on defense."
The Wizards went from being a top 10 scoring defense three years in a row to 21st during a 41-41 season. They can't allow the sort of defensive debacle that took place on the road last year in Denver.
"We got to be up into the ball," Morris said. "Honestly we're going ot average a lot of points. We got a lot of guys who can score the basketball. ... We just have to be a defensive-minded team. I'm usaually up into the ball on pick-and-rolls, usually showing, because I'm quicker than the average four. We're going to be different in a good way."
The Caps may have lost to the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday night, but one Caps fan was all smiles.
When you're wearing red in a sea of blue and orange, you're bound to stand out. One little Ovechkin fan braved the crowd at Rogers Place to support the Great 8. When Ovechkin saw, this happened:
Wednesday offered few bright spots for the Caps, but this was certainly one of them.