In the seventh inning of the Atlanta Braves’ 8-4 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday, Braves reliever Jason Motte “quick pitched” Jays outfielder Kevin Pillar, striking him out. Quick-pitching isn’t illegal except in extremes, in which case it is called a balk. It is, however, considered a bush-league tactic. Tempers were flaring in this game already, and Pillar was so upset by the pitch that yelled “Faggot!” at Motte. A “benches-clearing incident” ensued, called such because baseball players seldom really fight.
Nobody in the stands heard what Pillar said, and most of the players didn’t either. It was later lip-read off of the videotape of the game. There is no evidence that Motte is gay, so this was just a spontaneous utterance intended to mean “I don’t like you,” or something. If Motte were gay, and Pillar called him a faggot, this would be personal denigration based on a characteristic.
I mention this because calling a woman a bitch is not sexual harassment in the workplace; it’s just uncivil. Calling a man a bitch, however, has been found to be sexual harassment, as an innuendo about sexuality rather than character. It seem pretty clear that Pillar was not making a sexual allegation.
After the game, sensing what was to come, Pillar issued an apology to Motte, saying, “It was immature, it was stupid, it was uncalled for. It’s part of the game.” Is there any doubt that athletes saying vulgar things to each other (and umpires) on the field is part of the game? I have seen players, managers and coaches clearly say “fuck,” “shit,” and “son of a bitch” for decades, too many times to count. One of my all-time favorite players, hippie former Boston lefty Bill Lee, was once caught by a face-on camera as he sparked a real baseball fight by pointing at the Yankees’ Greg Nettles and articulating, “HEY FUCKHEAD!” Lee wasn’t suspended or fined, and this was thirty years ago.
But Major League Baseball launched an investigation of Pillar. Of words. On a baseball field. Pillar issued a more complete apology on his Twitter account:
He apparently guessed what was coming, or had been tipped off. Yesterday, the Toronto Blue Jays suspended Pillar for two games. Pillar isn’t yet in the highly-paid star category: he makes “only” $521, 000. A two game suspension will cost him about $6433 for a one syllable expletive. MLB has not taken any action, and apparently won’t.
Now, the Blue Jays, like any employer, can make any rules it chooses regarding the workplace. Obviously slurs cause bad feelings and are not the kind of things a professional sport wants its young fans to associate with its heroes. Still, any time people get punished for mere words my ethics alarms go off, and they also go off when so many people don’t seem to have ethics alarms regarding chilling speech and expression. Therefore I have some questions: Continue reading