Kevin Pillar, aka Superman, needs to clearly show he regrets using a homophobic slur: Keenan
A player in the big leagues needs to remember that their language is heard and can casually hurt good people around them.
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They call Blue Jays centre fielder Kevin Pillar “Superman.” A nickname like that comes with big expectations.
When you don that cape and then stand out there angry in front of the whole world and call the opposing pitcher a “faggot” after he strikes you out — as Pillar appeared to do Wednesday night — then you’re a super disappointment. What you ought to do then is whatever you can to make it right.
But before we get into that, a bit of personal context: my 8-year-old daughter is a developing competitive baseball player. She loves the game and has a developing love of the Jays. The first time I took her to see a game in person, Kevin Pillar made “The Catch,” right before our eyes — climbing the accounting-firm ad in left field to reach over the wall and steal a home run. The second time we went together, it was Pillar bobblehead day, and they kept showing superhero animations of him on the jumbotron. We saw him on TV this past weekend, hitting a walk-off home run wearing Mother’s Day pink. Then we went in person Tuesday and saw him get three hits, including a home run that made the game close for a while, against Atlanta.
On the way out of that game, my daughter told me she’d decided Kevin Pillar was her favourite Blue Jay. For all those reasons. I told her I thought he might be mine, too, for the same reasons. I don’t think we’re alone in this city. Like I said, the guy is called “Superman” around here.
We look up to him. On the field, he’s done a lot to make us proud (even in this so far less proud Blue Jays season, he leads the league in hits). In shouting a hateful homophobic slur — on the very day set aside as the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, no less — he let us down.
That particular slur remains lamentably common in macho subcultures of young men, like sports locker rooms. It suggests, forcefully, that there is something wrong with being gay — that gayness itself is an insult. For generations, it’s been used as a double-edged weapon, to assert that the person you are shouting it at is less than fully a man, and to assert it by associating him with homosexuality, therefore assuming that gay men are less than fully men.
Pillar seemed to recognize he’d done something wrong right away, by apologizing after the game. “It was immature, it was stupid, it was uncalled for,” he said, getting that much right.
He went on, proceeding into shakier territory: “It’s part of the game; I’m a competitive guy and heat of the moment… Obviously I’m going to do whatever I’ve got to do to reach out and apologize and let (opposing pitcher Jason Motte) know he didn’t do anything wrong, it was all me.” He said it was “something to learn from, something to move on from.” He said it was “not a good look” for him, and he didn’t want to “let it define me.”
The specifics of that apology didn’t seem to acknowledge why shouting that word at someone, particularly in front of a huge audience in person and on TV, is a problem. A personal apology to Motte is great, but it seemed a more urgent apology might be needed to LGBTQ fans watching who had been slurred. It’s definitely something to learn from, but maybe he needed to dwell on the lesson a bit before worrying about moving on, or whether he has a “good look.”
Indeed, how it does or doesn’t come to “define him” might depend on how he shows understanding of how he’s been hurtful. As a role model, he might be able to teach those who look up to him why we shouldn’t use words like that to trash talk each other, for the same reason we don’t use racial slurs to taunt each other. Not in anger, not in jest.
In the recent book The Only Rule is it Has to Work, Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller talk about introducing the first openly gay professional baseball player in history to an independent league locker room where casual homophobia was common. The other players welcomed and supported their new teammate, seemed to think it was no big deal, but the changes and sensitivities they write about among the players’ attitudes and language were interesting to read. Understanding that there’s someone — a friend — they might casually hurt with their language didn’t rewire the players’ ingrained habits immediately, but it had an effect.
What a player in the big leagues needs to realize is that their language is heard and can casually hurt good people around them in a whole city, a whole watching world.
Certainly when I was growing up, the term was a common schoolyard insult. I used it plenty. And I have had plenty of time since to wonder how many of my friends I might have unwittingly deeply hurt at the time. That is, I’ve committed the same sin. I’m not here to cast stones. Just to say, a lot of us have learned to do better, and a lot of us are still learning. All of us ought to.
Thursday afternoon, he sent out a fuller apology, saying his outburst had “helped extend the use of a word that has no place in baseball, in sports, or anywhere else in society today.” He extended his apology not just to Motte and all the Braves, but “to the LGBTQ community for the lack of respect I showed last night.” He hoped to use this as an opportunity to “better myself.”
And the team announced he’d be suspended two games for it, his pay for those games to be donated to charity.
That makes me feel a lot better about having my daughter look up to him. It shows a dawning understanding of what’s at stake when he uses those words.
But I am also not among those slurred here, so it is not for me to say when he’s made amends. If Pillar is serious about regretting this, and learning from it, he might want to follow his words by reaching out to one of the many LGBTQ groups in Toronto for instruction in the lessons he says he hopes can come out of this. Ask them what he can do to change the locker room culture of which his language was a part. What he might be able to do to make the many baseball fans in that community feel like the Jays value them as fans. How he can work to show a young gay player who idolizes him that the sport will welcome gay players as teammates.
There’s an organization called You Can Play that supports LGBTQ athletes, that has partners in the NHL and Major League Soccer. Perhaps Pillar and the Blue Jays can start working with them. If they are serious about moving on, then that might be the direction to move.
Is that too much to ask? I don’t think so. When you answer to the name “Superman,” you have to accept some responsibility for how your actions can help, or hurt, those around you. And if you care at all, you act accordingly.