On Kevin Pillar, And Words That Hurt

 

In the 7th inning of the Blue Jays game against the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday, Kevin Pillar struck out swinging on a quick-pitch from Jason Motte. Pillar was then seen on camera yelling what appeared to be a gay slur (specifically, the one beginning with an F) at Motte. The benches cleared, but nobody was ejected. Despite online speculation that it may have instead been “faked” or something similar, Pillar publicly admitted the next day to using the slur.

 

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Much like I would never ask a man his opinion on women’s healthcare issues, it doesn’t feel right for me, as a straight person, to address the impact of a slur that doesn’t affect me. So I asked some LGBTQ folks for their opinions on the incident, as well as his subsequent apologies.

 

 

@Seriouslyjai told me this: “I personally am exhausted by the whole thing. Hateful and hurtful slurs bring back all the times we’ve been called derogatory names or been witness to what can only be described as hate crimes. It’s deeply traumatizing and can cause flashbacks and anxiety … I’m disappointed in Pillar and hope he does make amends to the LGBTQ community. I’d also, as an aside, like to see a more systemic response and not treat this as an isolated incident.”

 

@ChurchCarlton posted this satirical piece, illustrating how ridiculous it is to be outraged over people being outraged over this.

 

@GirlSwagger101 posted multiple threads about the topic. Here are a few:

 

 

Rachel Lauren Clark was the first Transgender person to throw out the first pitch at an MLB game, in Toronto last year. She posted this on Thursday following Pillar’s press conference:

 

Now, I’m not the person to whom Pillar owes an apology here. But as a fan of the team, and a fan of him individually, I’m struggling with how to react to his behaviour, and the general behaviour of athletes who disappoint us, and wanted to say something myself.

 

Saying what he said was wrong, full stop. It doesn’t matter that he was frustrated. It doesn’t matter if he said it out of ignorance rather than hatred. That word is one with historical hatred embedded in it and therefore its presence, regardless of intention, causes harm. It’s not just a swear word. It’s a slur.

 

 

His initial reaction/apology (above) kind of didn’t help. He started off by saying it was immature and stupid, which was appropriate. But he didn’t specifically admit to saying the slur (though that could have been out of embarrassment, a word he used later to describe his state of mind), nor did he extend an apology to the specific people affected by it. He said that he was frustrated, because he’s a competitor, and he didn’t like the situation. That’s not an excuse. I’ve got news for you Kevin – most of us get frustrated on a daily basis without yelling a slur at someone. There are hundreds of thousands of words in the English language and the first one out of your mouth in that moment is not going to be one you’ve never used before.

 

Don’t want to let this define you? Well that’s really on you, to shape your legacy based on how you deal with this. The way you respond will be what defines you. Are you going to be the guy who brushes it off as a “heat of the moment” kind of thing? Or will you be the guy who acknowledges what he did was wrong, and who will work very hard to make amends to those that he hurt? I don’t know what the right actions are, and it’s not up to me to decide, but I’m sure it’s not hard for you to reach out and find out what the LGBTQ community would appreciate by way of contrition. Here’s one suggestion:

 

 

Pillar’s vagueness also didn’t help him. I’ve seen people take “it” to mean everything from ‘quick pitches’, to ‘frustration’, to ‘the language I used’. Acknowledging the first two as “part of the game” places ownership on him (i.e. “I should have anticipated that and reacted better”), the third does not. It shouldn’t be news to anyone that athletes get away with an awful lot of stuff behind closed doors, and casually throwing around homophobic insults – or sexist/racist ones – like that is one of them. It’s a disturbingly pervasive part of sports culture. It’s not acceptable, regardless of the situation, and he’s not the first to say it, nor will he probably be the last. He’s just the one who got caught.

 

The biggest, most public consequence Pillar has faced before now was being demoted to the minors in 2014, after being removed from a game and throwing a fit over it. He seemed to have matured since then, at least by outward appearances. However, we don’t truly know what players are like. Perhaps this is a rare occurrence for him, perhaps not. What we do know is that with the release of his statement on Thursday, he took ownership of being in the wrong, and acknowledged the damage he caused by using the slur. He also apologized to the LGBTQ community, a point that was missing from his speech the previous night.

 

 

I’ve seen Kevin Pillar be remorseful before. He fully cried on camera after running into Troy Tulowitzki in September 2015 and cracking Tulo’s shoulder blade. He cut a sympathetic figure at the time, and rightfully so, because he accepted blame, was concerned for his teammate, and felt bad because he hurt (physically) someone close to him. The tone of his scrum on Wednesday was different. There was no tearful guilt, and no apology to who he’d really hurt (emotionally). He seemed to at least realize his outburst was a mistake, but I’m not sure he grasped which part of it was the worst. On some level, he must have known he did something wrong, because guys don’t typically feel the need to reach out and apologize for yelling the other F-word at each other.

 

He initially spoke about reaching out to apologize to Motte, the pitcher. To the Braves. Who, ironically, are probably the least harmed by his actions, and who (being that they are athletes too) probably also hear that word regularly without understanding its connotation. At the time, I hoped that was a thinking-on-his-feet apology, and the next day after some time, he would issue a more thoughtful one. Thursday he took a bit more responsibility, and elaborated on the harm he’d caused. He agreed that the slur had no place in sports, or anywhere. He said later in a televised presser that he had the opportunity to be made an example of, and that he accepted that. Unfortunately, some of what he said still came across as self-preservation.

 

 

Where does this rank on the scale of bad things a person can do? I don’t know, and therefore I don’t even know how to measure my own reaction. It’s not a targeted, malicious attack, or a physical one, but it still strikes a blow to a group of vulnerable people (of which I am not one). The carelessness still makes it pretty bad. Does this incident mean he’s a homophobe, or a bad person on the whole? I don’t think so, at least I hope not. His apology seems to suggest he’s not homophobic. Then again, I like to believe the best in people. Maybe that’s naïve of me. I don’t know. I do know I’m disappointed in him, and I hope he does everything in his power to earn the forgiveness of those with the right to give it.

 

Is it similar to the time Yunel Escobar was suspended in 2012 for writing a homophobic slur on his eyeblack? On the surface, yes, because it was the same word used (albeit in a different language). It’s almost handy for us to have the other incident so readily available to compare it to. But there’s also an undeniable amount of cultural and racial issues involved there – at least in regard to Escobar’s explanation, and the public’s reaction to him – which is something I have neither the words nor the first-hand experience to get into. Pillar is also a popular fan-favourite in a way Escobar never was. That, coupled with the ‘heat of the moment’ excuse in contrast to Escobar’s obvious planning, sets up for him to be forgiven by the masses much more easily. Escobar received a 3-game suspension from the Blue Jays; his salary during that time was also donated by the team to You Can Play and GLAAD. Jays GM Ross Atkins announced on Thursday that Pillar would be suspended for two games, and his salary would also be donated (though he didn’t specify where).

 

Pillar is well-loved by a lot of kids. He’s fast, he’s flashy, and he’s exciting. So what about the little trans girl or gay teenage boy watching, who saw the same word coming out of their hero’s mouth that they hear from the bullies at school? How are they going to feel about it? Certainly a whole lot more crushed and disappointed than someone like me does. Worse still, their bullies will be emboldened by such a public figure using the slur in such a public way.

 

Look, nobody wants to believe that their favourite athlete might do or say terrible things. Denial is a hell of a drug. I know, I’ve been there. But the bottom line is that athletes (and all celebrities) are human, and human beings are complex and flawed. We can’t avoid that reality. What we can do, and should, is demand better of them. We should hold them accountable if and when they mess up. We shouldn’t just hand out automatic forgiveness the next time they hit a home run or make an amazing catch. They don’t need, nor do they deserve, to be sheltered from scrutiny.

 

Defending them, or denying they did anything, lets them get away with it. Saying “Oh that’s just how athletes are, they always say stuff like that” lets Pillar off the hook, and offers a free pass to the next guy who gets caught saying something stupid. He’s the one who actually said it, but jock culture is complicit in getting him to the point where he thinks saying it – under any circumstance – is OK. The underlying homophobia, sexism, and racism in sports will never go away unless we the public send the message that it’s not acceptable and we won’t tolerate it. I’m going to reiterate what I’ve always said about beanballs and retaliation culture – just because it’s the way things have always been doesn’t make it right, and that doesn’t prevent me from wanting it to change. ‘Locker room talk’ be damned. These are adults.

 

Their humanity means that they will make mistakes, but it also means that they should have to face the consequences of their actions just like the rest of us. They’re not the victims here (unless you can be a victim of your own stupid behaviour). In baseball, it’s pretty common for someone who has offended their opponent to be expected to ‘just wear it’ when a pitch is thrown at them. If people have no problem with that, I don’t think it’s too much to expect someone like Pillar to have to ‘just wear’ the outrage and loss of respect from the public. It’s certainly not too much to expect him to do better going forward.

 

If you’d like to help support the LGBTQ community in the GTA, click here .
For information about the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity, click here.
For resources to support LGBTQ children who are being bullied, click here.

 

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  • mktoronto

    This piece turned out very well. I wanted to write something similar but TBH I was tired of all the pushback I was already getting and didn’t have the energy to lay things out the way you did here. I appreciate all the outreach you did (the Today’s Parent piece is a great find) to articulate just why this matters. The links are great as well. Congrats.

    • Emily – HE’S BACK!!!

      Thank you so much for your kind words! I have to give a Twitter friend credit for sending me the resource links at the end, she offered to read it over before posting and suggested I add them in. Thanks again for reading!

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