In the wake of the Thom Brennaman fiasco, one of the messages Outsports tried to stress in our analysis was that this had the potential to become a moment for the Reds broadcaster to learn how his homophobia had hurt the LGBTQ community and become a better person going forward.
It would take a lot of introspection, connecting to the community, listening to them, and establishing genuine relationships. Not to mention acts of contrition. In other words: work.
But it can be done. As Tim Hardaway’s example demonstrates, it’s happened before.
Last week on the Outsports podcast 3 Strikes, You’re Out, I was reminded of another important aspect of this process of self-improvement: it never really ends.
This was brought home in my discussion with Blue Jays podcaster A.J. Andrews when we compared Brennaman to the example of former Toronto center fielder Kevin Pillar.
(And let me tell you that as a baseball fan, it really sucks that my favorite sport has enough instances of this that we could set up a section of Baseball Reference dedicated to homophobe comps. Brennaman, for those who are curious, currently rates at 6.3 Schillings Above Replacement.)
In 2017, Pillar responded to a Braves reliever Jason Motte quick pitch by shouting an anti-gay slur at the hurler. It was the same one Brennaman uttered into a live mic and resulted in the Blue Jays suspending him two games.
Recalling that ugly moment, Andrews, who is a transgender woman, vocalized the hurt that she felt seeing one of her favorite team’s most prominent players utter such a hateful word:
“To hear Kevin Pillar just drop that, it did hurt. Because these are people who I want to be able to talk to and try to develop a relationship with to enjoy a potential career that I love. And clearly, they don’t have the respect for me that I do for them.”
Following his very public on-field slur, Pillar appeared to be doing exactly the kind of self-examination and work in the community that we would recommend to Brennaman. On his Twitter feed, Pillar showed that he understood the damage his words had caused:
He followed up by donating his salary for the two suspended games to PFLAG and the You Can Play Project, met with Billy Bean, listened to members of Toronto’s LGBTQ community, and even caught a first pitch thrown by Pride Toronto’s Michelle Cherny during Blue Jays Pride celebrations.
Pillar appeared to be a perfect example of the path to redemption that we were encouraging Brennaman to follow. A.J. Andrews also lauded Pillar’s work in her post about the Brennaman slur on the Jays From the Couch blog. This felt like a very Rocky IV “I can change, and you can change, everybody can change” ending.
Unfortunately, there was a new development in the Pillar saga. Pillar started this year on the Boston Red Sox and when his teammates agreed to join Jackie Bradley Jr, the only Black player on Boston’s roster, in MLB players’ wildcat strike to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake, Pillar said this to the media in response:
“Is it more important that we uplift Jackie because he’s the only one? My answer would be no. I think it’s important that we uplift everyone in this room.”
Ugh. Andrews exasperatedly sighed on the podcast, “As an editor’s note, I wish I did not defend Kevin Pillar as much as I did in that post... I didn’t think he’d go All Lives Matter literally two days later. Have some level of awareness, Kevin, come on!”
It was especially disappointing to hear such a sentiment from Pillar because that called into question the sincerity of everything he did to improve in the wake of his 2017 slur. Suddenly, all of his community outreach and public contrition felt less like he was trying to change as a person and more like he was trying to earn hole punches on a “Get Out of Bigotry Free” frequent customer card. It was perfunctory and performative instead of empathetic.
Andrews further summed it up, noting, “It looked like it was all just a show. And when you do that, a lot of people get angry because they feel played. I felt played once he actually did that. Because you didn’t mean any of it because you haven’t learned to respect other people.”
That’s why even if Thom Brennaman chooses the road of self improvement, it’s still going to be a lengthy and difficult process. Pillar’s recent ugly comments demonstrate that if a public figure stops putting in the work for whatever reason, he could backslide and undo all the progress he made in an instant.
We still hope Brennaman takes this opportunity to become a better person. If he does, we also hope he understands he’s going to have to commit to it for the long haul.