He is working with the Blue Jays and M.L.B. to do more public events like the one he participated in last week.
“I definitely want to make some good come of it, but I don’t want this to be something that defines me,” Pillar said of the slur, which he said was blurted out in frustration. “I don’t want it to be something that needs to be a story all season long.
“At the same time, I don’t want to just issue an apology, but to go out and do things that are important for myself and this organization to show that what happened was an honest mistake,” he added. “It doesn’t define my character or the beliefs of this organization.”
The 28-year-old Pillar was a 32nd-round draft pick in 2011, making him a long shot to make it to the major leagues, but that is where he was just two years later. With his scrappy style and acrobatic catches in center field, he has become a fan favorite in Toronto, where the Blue Jays — who lead the American League in attendance — have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity during the past three seasons.
Toronto is also a diverse, multicultural city with a thriving gay and lesbian community. And Pillar’s slur quickly dredged up the memory of the former Blue Jays player Yunel Escobar, who wrote a gay slur in Spanish on his eye-black tape in 2012, an act that drew a three-game suspension from M.L.B.
In this instance, the Blue Jays meted out the punishment and felt they were at fault, too.
“We have a platform and a massive opportunity to heighten inclusiveness, and we failed to do that,” said Toronto General Manager Ross Atkins, who, like many other top Blue Jays executives, joined the team in 2015. “We take accountability. It’s not Kevin on an island. We see it as a failure on the organization’s part when this happened.”
David Denson, an openly gay former minor league baseball player, said that gay slurs — like the one Pillar yelled at Motte — are thrown around loosely in the sport.
“It’s very much a default insult,” said Denson, who retired in March, nearly two years after coming out while in the Milwaukee Brewers’ system. “It’s stereotyping — if you’re gay, you’re not masculine and you shouldn’t be in the locker room — you shouldn’t be around, period.”
Anne Creighton, the president of the Toronto chapter of Pflag — an advocacy group founded by parents and friends of gays — said the pain a gay slur causes is typically not well understood, except by the target.
When her organization provides workplace sensitivity training, Creighton said, it often involves members of Pflag telling their children’s stories.
“We try to relate what an ally looks like,” Creighton said.
It did not take Pillar long to learn how deeply his one-word outburst, which was picked up by a microphone, resonated. The Blue Jays received angry calls, but Pillar also heard from many of his nearly 250,000 Twitter followers.
“People were able to get in touch with me instantaneously,” Pillar said. “It’s human instinct to want to read these things, although you shouldn’t. You obviously learn who you really offended.”
Immediately afterward, Pillar consulted with his agent, the players’ union and Blue Jays officials, and he reached out to Billy Bean, M.L.B.’s vice president for social responsibility and inclusion. Bean, who came out as gay after his major league career, sensed genuine remorse from Pillar, who told him that was not how he was raised and that he was mortified that his slur would hurt his wife’s gay friends, whom he considered his friends, too.
“What was important to me is that he was really sorry,” Bean said. “Most players don’t realize the gravity of a major league baseball platform until something happens, until everybody is talking to him about something other than baseball. I said, ‘Listen, people make mistakes all the time. What are you going to do is how people are going to judge you.’”
Pillar posted an apology on Twitter, saying he was “utterly embarrassed” and apologized to, among others, the L.G.B.T. community “for the lack of respect I displayed last night.”
Pillar said he hoped “what comes from this is that when you’re at your very worst moment and you’re at your most emotional moment, you just think before you say something.”
“To me, it was just something that was said without intention or thought behind it,” he said. “You soon learn that you need to be mindful of what you say.”
When Cherny went to the pitcher’s mound before Thursday night’s game, she had plenty of time to think about what she wanted to say to Pillar. She chose to keep the conversation light.
After her toss, she walked toward Pillar. They hugged, and he autographed the baseball for her.
Pillar complimented Cherny on her throw. Cherny, an accountant and an avid weekend warrior, told him how nervous she was.
“I don’t do this every day,” she said. “It’s very nerve-racking to throw in front of all these people. He said you never get over the nerves. I think we shared similar emotions.”
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