This is one of those situations where I couldn’t sleep last night because I had so many ideas bouncing around in my head about what I wanted to say. I didn’t write them down, and now they are gone, gone gone, like my willpower around a plate of cookies. Such is a writer’s dilemma. So I’m starting over.
Is there a place for LGBTQIA+ people in sports? How can we find our place in sports when we have overwhelmingly been excluded and discriminated at worst, and ignored or mocked at best? I’m sitting at my desk, in my Toronto Blue Jays hat, wondering what the answer is and whether or not I can make my peace with it.
Two days ago, centre-fielder for the Toronto Blue Jays, Kevin Pillar, hurled a homophobic slur at Atlanta Braves pitcher, Jason Motte, after he quick-pitched him for a strike out in the 7th inning. It had already been a contentious game, following a few games where the Jays were overwhelmingly out batted. It was a breeding ground for pent up frustration, especially considering the losses ended a much needed and coveted winning streak for the Jays. I don’t say these things to excuse what came out of Pillar’s mouth, but to offer some context to what lead up to it. The Jays are down right now, missing key players all over the place, and even having the players they bring up to fill in getting hurt. There is a dark cloud hanging over the team, despite the fact that players like Barney, Maile, Goins, Carrera, and the entire bullpen have really stepped up to fill the gaps.
But that does not give anyone the liberty or right to go low. I’ve been there myself, as a ball player, where the game or season isn’t going your way, the team is bobbling it in the field, nobody can connect at bats, or the umps seem to be working against you at every turn. I’m ashamed to admit I’ve lashed out a variety of times in similar situations. I understand the frustration of being competitive and having those feelings amount to nothing, or a total and complete loss for the team. Baseball is an emotional sport, I know this, I understand this, and yet.. I also cannot accept this.
I’m struggling here. Not because I in any way condone or accept the use of the homophobic f-word as a slur, but because of being unsure of what needs to happen next. Pillar has done the leg work of acknowledging why what he said was not okay, has sincerely apologized (although it took him a few tries to get it right) and welcomed his punishment, which is more than a lot of other players across professional sports have done, but LGBTQIA+ fans are feeling the fracture. We have ultimately never been welcomed in sports properly, ever (yet).
To have someone you look up to and respect let you down like that, it stings. Pillar may have done all the right things after the fact thus far, but the trust has been broken and it’s going to take more than an apology to make it right. How do we forgive someone when their actions have re-opened a divide among baseball fans? I have already seen countless tweets about how “PC culture” is ruining sports or people commending Pillar for what he said. How do you not hold this against them when they’ve put a spotlight on the fact that we are still overwhelmingly not welcome here? It is not an easy position for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, non-binary, intersex, or asexual/aromantic baseball fans to be in. How do we make sense of these two pieces of ourselves? Being out and proud while also being a fan of something that has never fully accepted you is supremely complicated. I don’t want to hold Pillar responsible for what is obviously a systemic issue in Major League Baseball because that is unfair, but I am extremely disappointed and hurt.
There will be these players, in any sport, that are simply a joy to watch. Kevin Pillar is one of those players. There are times when he makes what he does look so easy, like it comes to him as naturally as breathing. It is simply uplifting to watch him play and cheer him on. I know there is a lot of hard work involved with getting to that point as an athlete, and Pillar has struggled over the years to get himself to where he is now. I commend that hard work, persistence, and patience. These are all admirable qualities to have. I suppose what I am hoping for is that he’ll use these qualities in earnest to earn back the trust of the community he so flippantly disrespected two days ago, because it will require a lot of hard work, persistence, and patience to do so.
I don’t think that Kevin Pillar is homophobic, but I do think he has a lot unlearning to do. We all have unlearning to do in our lives. We’re exposed to certain things as being okay or the “norm” in our lives, and a lot of the time we accept them without thinking. As we learn more about the world, we stumble, make mistakes, and unlearn these outdated, discriminatory ideas and words. Through this we become more compassionate people. We have to be able to make mistakes to get there though, and while I don’t condone this as an excuse for people who show no remorse and make no effort to change their behaviour, mistakes can and should lead to becoming a better version of yourself. That is what I hope for with Kevin Pillar. If you’ll excuse the pun: I want him to stand tall and be a pillar of integrity, in the locker room, on the field, and in the media for inclusiveness in baseball. He has a chance here to say “this is not okay, and we need to make changes”, and then be that change, push for that change, and stand up against people who resist that change.
I for one hope that he does. I’ll be watching, and waiting to see what happens next.
*I am queer and I use the word for myself while also acknowledging that not everyone in the LGBTQIA+ community is comfortable with that word being ascribed to them. I acknowledge that queer is and has been used as a slur towards my community but that we have also fought hard to take the word back. I use queer with pride, other people have different feelings that are equally valid and important.
Respect people’s identities, allow them to decide what identities and words work for them.