Life comes at you fast.
Before last night, Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar was having a great season. The excellent defender had been thriving offensively and had started every game. Then, frustrated at a quick pitch from the Braves’ Jason Motte, Pillar called Motte a “faggot.” And just like that, his season took a dark turn.
It’s an awful word that has no place in Major League Baseball. It’s cutting and violent, all menace and genetically designed to cause pain. And so, today, Millar, the Blue Jays, and Major League Baseball reacted quickly. The league launched an investigation, Pillar issued an apology, and the Jays suspended one of the few bright spots in what’s looking like a lost season for two games. The penalty is right and fair, and Pillar, if he is serious about his apology, will accept it.
First, let’s talk about that apology. Here it is, in full, tweeted from Pillar’s Twitter account:
Frankly, that’s about as good an apology as I’ve seen in a situation like that. Pillar takes responsibility for what he said. He makes no excuses. He promises to do better and to make amends. While I’m sure Pillar had his representatives at least look at, if not craft, his apology, we’ve seen ballplayers who don’t give a damn about the words they use in the past or who are reluctant to apologize for what they’ve done. For Pillar to aggressively rebuke himself and his own actions is exactly what we’d want someone to do when they make a mistake.
Now, I don’t know if Kevin Pillar is homophobic. I don’t know if he’s ever used that word before or if it’s a regular part of his vocabulary off the field. Neither do you. All we have to go on is Pillar’s response and, frankly, it’s perfect. If he follows through on it, I think it’s entirely appropriate to take him at his word.
As for the two-game suspension, this seems about right. Many people are going to be shouting about “free speech” in the aftermath of this controversy. They’re going to say that baseball, and our society, is becoming too sensitive. That’s ridiculous. First, we all deserve respect for who we are as long as we aren’t hurting anyone. In general, using slurs, be they homophobic, racist, sexist, or socioeconomic is something only a truly unrepentant jackass would do in this day and age.
More to the point, however, Pillar was wearing the uniform and logo of his employer, the Toronto Blue Jays. The Jays are an organization that relies on public goodwill to fill its stadium and watch its games. Some part of their fanbase is made up of people who will be offended by what Pillar screamed. And, as such, punishing him for representing them poorly is entirely appropriate.
In September of 2012, Yunel Escobar took the field in Toronto with “Tu ere maricon” [translation: “you are a faggot”] written in white on the black strips below his eyes. This was a clearly premeditated act on Escobar’s part and, frankly, I found his apology lacking. Clearly, given that he planned using this slur out, this was something he found funny and acceptable until he was caught and raked across the coals. He was suspended for three games.
On the other hand, Pillar’s exclamation was done on the spur of the moment, in an instant where he had lost control of himself and his emotions. We’ve never seen him use that word before on the diamond. And we may never see him do it again. There is little doubt that what he said was wrong, but there’s also no indication that he believes what he did was right. He genuinely seems horrified and disappointed in himself. So a shorter punishment, one that does not derail his season, and his efforts to make up for his mistake, seems entirely appropriate.
Letting him sit shows that the Jays, and the league, take what he did seriously. Bringing him back after two games demonstrates a commitment to rehabilitation, and to allowing Pillar to do his penance in the public eye actually brings additional attention to the issue and allows him to demonstrate, again, that he really is sorry. It reemphasizes his wrong, but gives all of us a path forward to something better.