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BLUE JAYS

'Ashamed': Blue Jays' Pillar suspended for homophobic slur

By Rob Longley, Toronto Sun

Toronto Blue Jays’ Kevin Pillar watches from the dugout at the end of the game as the Cleveland Indians celebrate a playoff win in Toronto on Oct. 19, 2016. (Craig Robertson/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network)

Toronto Blue Jays’ Kevin Pillar watches from the dugout at the end of the game as the Cleveland Indians celebrate a playoff win in Toronto on Oct. 19, 2016. (Craig Robertson/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network)

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ATLANTA — Kevin Pillar is ashamed, embarrassed and now suspended.

The Blue Jays centre fielder, self-admittedly crushed by the ramifications of a homophobic slur he uttered in the seventh inning of a game here against the Braves on Wednesday, was suspended without pay for two games.

“I felt embarrassed for myself and my family, for this organization,” Pillar said prior to the conclusion of the two-game series at SunTrust Park and shortly after the suspension was announced by Jays general manager Ross Atkins. “I was ashamed.

“Hopefully my teammates, Major League Baseball, other sports … people are going to learn there is no place for this type of language on a baseball field, at home, in a clubhouse.”

By the time the sun rose on Thursday, the Jays were aware they were in the midst of a full-blown controversy. Replays clearly showed Pillar yelling a two-syllable homophobic slur at Braves pitcher Jason Motte, who the Jays leading offensive player felt was guilty of a quick pitch.

To its credit, Jays management moved swiftly to get a jump on the situation before more damage was done to Pillar’s reputation and that of the team in general.

In the midst of a sleepless night, Pillar phoned his agent at 2 a.m. and several hours later back in Toronto, Atkins began to address the situation.

Before noon, discussions with MLB and the Players Association had heated up and three hours before game time on Thursday, the suspension news was made public.

“He’s torn up about it. We are too,” said Atkins, who flew to Atlanta to deal with the situation personally. “We’re going to do everything we can to make it right. There’s no silver lining when something like this happens, but we’re glad that Kevin has chosen to be accountable.

“He was disappointed but immediately accountable and very mature.”

In deciding on the punishment, the Jays consulted with major league baseball and the MLBPA. When all parties agreed on the term, the Jays were given clearance to announce the suspension under the assurance there would be no further disciplinary action from MLB.

When it was settled on two games (without salary), Pillar remained in street clothes and was to miss Thursday’s game here and Friday’s opener of a three-game weekend set in Baltimore.

While Atkins spoke with praise of Pillar’s character, he was adamant in not defending his actions.

“There’s no question that he was in the heat of the moment, but that is no excuse whatsoever,” Atkins said. “We will be accountable. I’m very glad that Kevin has decided to be accountable as well.

“We pride ourselves on respecting other people — it’s one of our core values. That’s all walks of life, all communities, all people and anyone this organization touches in some way.

“Secondarily, we recognize and realize we have a responsibility and a platform to heighten sensitivities and increase inclusiveness. We’ve also failed to do that over the last 24 hours.”


SIMMONS: No place in sports for what Pillar said


Atkins said the Jays have reached out to Billy Bean, a special assistant to MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, who is overseeing initiatives to deal with such issues. The team says it will formulate plans to work with the LGBTQ community.

“We will make sure it’s thoughtful and something that can have a significant impact,” Atkins said.

Pillar said his lost salary, plus an undisclosed fine, will be donated to a yet-to-be-decided organization.

While adamant the remark was out of character — at one point he claimed the word is not a part of his vocabulary — Pillar was contrite, first in a message he posted on his official Twitter account and later during a scrum with reporters at the stadium.

“I hope people see this as just an error in judgment, as a mistake,” Pillar said. “Hopefully this one or two seconds of bad judgment doesn’t define me. I hope people understand that this really does affect me.”

Once the emotions if a bombastic game with the Braves had died down, Pillar said he began to understand the gravity of the situation. Talking with his wife shortly after only heightened the feeling.

“I think in the heat of the moment I knew I had made a mistake,” said Pillar, who also apologized personally to Motte. “I didn’t think it was something that would lead to this magnitude.”

From a baseball perspective, the suspension comes at an untimely spot for the Jays, who lost their three previous games prior to Thursday and have a lineup ravaged by injury.

Moreover, Pillar had been the team’s most impressive player. Prior to Thursday’s game, the California native was third in the American League in hits with 51 and 10th in batting average (.305).

“Kevin’s a caring guy. It’s a big hit he’s taking right now, so he’s got to be mentally strong,” Jays manager John Gibbons said. “You never know how these things are going to affect guys.

“He feels terrible with what happened and he’ll deal with that. He’s got a conscience. I guarantee you that’s eating him. That’s not who he is. He’ll suffer and take the consequences.”

rlongley@postmedia.com



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