Su­per­man tar­nished by anti-gay slur

Blue Jays’ Pil­lar says he’s ‘em­bar­rassed’ by in­ci­dent ver­sus Braves

The Province - - SPORTS | BASEBALL - Steve Sim­mons ssim­mons@post­ twit­­mon­ssteve

B y al­most any sport­ing def­i­ni­tion, Kevin Pil­lar seems like a man worth cheer­ing for. He puts in his work. He flies through the air and not nec­es­sar­ily with the great­est of ease. He plays the out­field with a Su­per­man elec­tric­ity. And in this dread­ful, haunt­ing Blue Jays sea­son, he has worked ex­traor­di­nar­ily hard to change who he is.

To be bet­ter of­fen­sively. To not strike out so of­ten. To walk more than oc­ca­sion­ally. To be­come one of the bet­ter hit­ters in the Amer­i­can League. And at the quar­ter mark of the sea­son, he has been the best Blue Jays player, the one player al­ter­ing his rep­u­ta­tion around the game.

And now this — a rep­u­ta­tion spi­ralling in dis­pute and de­bate and shock af­ter a mo­ment he would like to have back. A rep­u­ta­tion worth dis­cussing and un­der­stand­ing. A rep­u­ta­tion we need to come to grips with — and maybe take a gi­ant step back from — in the wake of Pil­lar’s choice of words on the ball field in Atlanta on Wed­nes­day night.

You didn’t have to be an ex­pert lip-reader to have made out what Pil­lar said to Braves pitcher Ja­son Motte. Af­ter be­ing quick-pitched and strik­ing out, he said: “You fag­got.”

You can’t say what Pil­lar said any­more. Not in pub­lic. Not any­where. You can’t say it on the field, on the streets, in restau­rants or bars or in the park. It’s the language of ha­tred. Even with­out in­tent or full com­pre­hen­sion of the con­text of his mis­take, he has apol­o­gized. His words were not ac­cept­able. They’re not ac­cept­able now. They should never be ac­cept­able.

This is big-city Toronto: Large, di­verse, com­plex, di­vided. This is big-city Toronto, where the Blue Jays play to a wide, var­ied fan base of all ages and gen­ders and colours. And even in a city of ten­sion, where Pride and Black Lives Mat­ter and the po­lice and the city are strug­gling to find com­mon ground with so much pol­i­tics at play, there is never place for the language of hate, ac­ci­den­tal, mo­men­tary or not.

The tim­ing, re­ally, could not have been worse. Wed­nes­day was In­ter­na­tional Day Against Ho­mo­pho­bia, Trans­pho­bia and Bi­pho­bia. Re­ally, ev­ery day should be a day against all pho­bias and prej­u­dices. Why do we re­quire a day to do what’s right?

But Pil­lar got caught in the non-think­ing emo­tion of the mo­ment, caught by the tele­vi­sion cam­eras, caught by his own tem­per, caught by his choice of ver­biage. “This is not who I am,” said Pil­lar. “I’m com­pletely and ut­terly em­bar­rassed” by this.

And on Thurs­day, he was given a two-game sus­pen­sion by the Jays, a penalty that met with the ap­proval of Ma­jor League Base­ball and the play­ers’ as­so­ci­a­tion.

It’s not who he is, but he said it. That’s the in­con­gruity here. These words aren’t a life sen­tence. Just a loud and un­com­fort­able re­minder.

I have got to know Pil­lar the way we get to know most ballplay­ers in our busi­ness. We hang around the club­house and the field. We ask a few ques­tions. We ex­change the odd barb. We tend to like those who are co-op­er­a­tive bet­ter than those who are not and the more hu­man the ballplayer, the more we warm up to them.

But to say we know them — re­ally know them — isn’t ac­cu­rate. We know only what they show us or share with us. Be­fore Wed­nes­day, I al­ways thought of Pil­lar as con­fi­dent, slightly cocky, a touch sar­cas­tic, oc­ca­sion­ally tightly wound.

But I never would have equated Pil­lar, the Jewish out­fielder from Los Angeles, a long-shot ma­jor-league player who had to ac­quire some bigleague mod­esty be­fore mak­ing this way to Toronto, as the kind of player who would trip over him­self in this man­ner. He is some­what self­made. He is the kind of ballplayer we ad­mire. Toronto has warmed up to try guys and he is one of those. A player whose pop­u­lar­ity was on the rise.

While walk­ing out of Rogers Cen­tre last sum­mer, I over­heard a con­ver­sa­tion be­tween a fa­ther and a son no more than eight years old.

“Dad,” the son asked, “is Jose Bautista Su­per­man?”

“No,” the dad an­swered, “that’s Kevin Pil­lar.”

“Dad, why do they call him Su­per­man?”

“Be­cause he flies threw the air and makes these in­cred­i­ble catches.”

“He flies through the air?,” the son looked up with wide eyes.

“Yes, like this,” he said, try­ing to em­u­late a Pil­lar div­ing move­ment. “Dad,” he said, “I love Kevin Pil­lar.” Upon the ho­mo­pho­bic black­eye sus­pen­sion of for­mer Blue Jays short­stop Yunel Escobar, for­mer base­ball com­mis­sioner Bud Selig said: “Base­ball is a so­cial in­sti­tu­tion with im­por­tant so­cial re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.”

The days when any sport had its own nasty language and so­ci­ety spoke with a dif­fer­ent tone and dif­fer­ent words are long over. There are too many mi­cro­phones, too many cam­eras, too di­verse and in­tel­li­gent an au­di­ence watch­ing: We’re not ask­ing for per­fec­tion from our ath­letes. We’re ask­ing for a sense of de­cency and deco­rum.

The next time a lit­tle kid walks out of the ball­park and asks his dad about Pil­lar and Su­per­man, I won­der what will the fa­ther say?

It won’t be the same. It can’t be the same. That’s what has to hurt for Pil­lar. He wanted and pushed for a new rep­u­ta­tion this sea­son. This wasn’t what he had in mind.

Toronto Blue Jays cen­tre-fielder Kevin Pil­lar, right, said he is ‘com­pletely and ut­terly em­bar­rassed’ for di­rect­ing an anti-gay slur at Braves re­lief pitcher Ja­son Motte Wed­nes­day dur­ing a loss in Atlanta. Pil­lar was given a two-game sus­pen­sion by the team.


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