ATLANTA – Regardless of where you sit on the two-game suspension handed by the Toronto Blue Jays to Kevin Pillar for his use of a derogatory gay slur, the true judgment on their handling of the situation comes in what they do next, in how they try to draw some good from this bad.
Thursday’s discipline was a good starting point for both. Pillar took responsibility for uttering an offensive term at Atlanta Braves reliever Jason Motte and was earnestly remorseful for the inadvertent hurt he caused, while the Blue Jays acted swiftly in punishing one of their key players in an hour of on-field need.
Debate a game here or there on the ban all you like – they did the right thing.
Now, though, it’s on them to, as GM Ross Atkins put it, “do everything we can to make it right” and for Pillar to follow through on his willingness to “be used as an example,” because there is a real opportunity for them to do some good.
That athletes in machismo-driven environments still toss around the derogatory slurs like any old word to throw shade shouldn’t be surprising, even as progress has been made in recent years.
In certain circles, there remains total ignorance to the prejudicial nature of the term and that it causes insult similar to that of loaded racist terms decent people wouldn’t dare use. This isn’t about political correctness – the only place for gay slurs is in the lexicon of the bigoted, and high-profile incidents such as the one involving Pillar reinforce that.
“There’s no place for this language on a baseball field, in the clubhouse, between friends in the privacy of your own home,” said Pillar. “There are words out there that are very offensive to a lot of people regardless of how you use them.”
The second part of that makes a subtle but important point, as another common excuse for using the gay slur Pillar uttered at Motte is that it’s not intended as a slight to members of LGBTQ community, but rather as way to criticize someone’s toughness.
Such arguments completely ignore that the slur’s roots are in hurtful stereotypes of gay men as weaker or lesser than straight men. The word Pillar used is not a synonym for weakling, and everyone needs to understand that.
Those making the mountain-out-of-a-mole-hill argument need to understand that explanations like “heat of the moment,” or “not really homophobic” aren’t acceptable rationalizations.
“There are a lot of different words that could have been said in the heat of the moment, that was the one that came out and I regret saying it wholeheartedly,” said Pillar, who talked things over with his wife after Wednesday’s game. “She was just as confused as I was about the choice of words. It’s not a word I use, ever. It’s not part of my vocabulary, it’s just something that I guess came out.”
Only with ongoing vigilance and a zero-tolerance policy can such inadvertent usage of the term change.
To his credit, Pillar quickly realized the repercussions of his word choice and accepted responsibility for his actions. At 2 a.m. after Wednesday’s game he said he phoned his agent because he wanted to clarify his comments and when morning rolled around they got to work on a statement.
Concurrently, the Blue Jays recognized the gravity of what happened, began consulting with Major League Baseball and the players’ union on the matter, and looked to the three-game ban handed to Yunel Escobar in 2012 for taking the field with a Spanish gay slur written on his eye-black patches as a framework.
“We felt like what he did and I did was very similar but the instances were a little bit different,” said Pillar.
A key difference is that Escobar’s act was premeditated – he took the time to think about what he wrote on the patches and consciously decided to take the field with them – while Pillar reacted out of frustration after being angered by a Motte quick pitch he waved at for strike three.
The distinction there led to Pillar getting one fewer game.
“We were proactive with what we thought was best,” said Atkins. “What we felt was appropriate, we made a suggestion and it was ultimately endorsed. It was a collaborative effort, it wasn’t as simple as that, but we wanted to ensure that we were being as proactive as possible to get in front of it.”
Again, that’s good, but what happens next counts just as much, if not more.
Escobar also had to complete sensitivity training and participate in an outreach program while the $93,000 in salary he forfeited was donated to You Can Play, an organization promoting tolerance for gay athletes in sports, and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
Pillar’s forfeited salary along with an undisclosed fine will be donated, as well, with the details still being finalized. The other steps have yet to be settled, too, but it’s clear Pillar acted with no malice, something worth remembering before the agenda-driven set or rush-to-judge crowd piles on.
“The thing above Kev, because I know him as well as anyone around here, he’s got a huge heart,” said manager John Gibbons. “He’s always looking out for the other person. Not everybody’s like that. He’s always willing to help in the community, or somebody who needs something. He’ll suffer and take the consequences, but I hope this doesn’t define him. I think that would be unfair because I know who he is and what he’s all about. But he understands what happened and he’ll deal with that.”
Added teammate and close friend Ryan Goins: “We all know the type of person he is and he’s being portrayed as a villain right now which I know hurts him. It’s something he’ll learn from, for sure. He’ll respond to this like he always does, true character, being a professional like he always is, so hopefully we can get past this and he can move on for his sanity because I know he feels terrible about it. That’s something that might take time, but over time, I think everybody knows the person he is truly.”
Pillar made a mistake, a bad one, he owned his error, and now is deserving of a chance to make amends.