TORONTO – The entire production played right to script. Anthony Bass, seemingly shellshocked, apologizing, vowing to learn so he can be better. The Toronto Blue Jays saying all the right things about inclusivity and acceptance, with vague promises of follow-up. The carefully concocted word soup immediately fed into the poisoned zeitgeist and parsed along culture-war lines. All that remains is for the next outrage to emerge, little to nothing resolved in this storm’s wake.
As such, the entire exercise of Bass delivering a brief statement Tuesday, no questions taken, about platforming a post supporting the anti-2SLGBTQ+ boycotts of Target and Bud Light, and manager John Schneider serving as organizational spokesman, felt somewhat pointless.
To be fair, there are very few ways to genuinely smooth over the hurt and douse the ensuing tire-fire discourse. These are societal questions being wrestled with in a baseball environment where winning a game every night is the priority. Intolerance, ignorance and echo-chamber opinion-building isn’t in the wheelhouse.
Still, society is often reflected in sports and within Bass’ situation are some bigger-picture questions that are more worth reflecting on more than one poorly thought out Insta story by a reliever of limited profile.
Foremost on that front is how does an organization that places the type of emphasis on culture, diversity and inclusion that the Blue Jays do reconcile rostering a player who, at minimum, felt it was appropriate to share a post that’s clearly anti-2SLGBTQ+?
Any large cross-section of people is sure to include a wide array of views and it’s naïve to think intolerances can be easily rooted out by organizational value statements.
Just look at the way a variety of Pride events hosted by National Hockey League teams this past season were marred by a handful of players declining to participate.
Philadelphia Flyers defenceman Ivan Provorov was the first back in January, citing his Russian Orthodox religious beliefs. Brothers Eric and Marc Staal of the Florida Panthers and San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer also cited religious beliefs in declining to take part in their teams’ events, the Chicago Blackhawks cancelled plans for players to wear Pride-themed warmup jerseys due to a Russian law against supporting 2SLGBTQ+ rights, while the Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers also bailed on warmup-jersey plans without explanation.
None of the players there faced the type of reckoning Bass did Tuesday, and if he will indeed be “using the Blue Jays’ resources to better educate myself to make better decisions moving forward,” well, that’s something.
Giving people the opportunity to learn and grow is preferable to simply banishing them after expressing ignorance/bigotry/racism because that’s the only forward for society.
Of course, people have to be willing to reconsider their views for that to work.
Discrimination is learned, not inherent, so an open mind is an opportunity to build understanding which can lead to change. The alternative is deepening divisions, a last resort when common ground on values can’t be found.
That part is up to Bass, who to his credit didn’t hide behind religion but also didn’t offer any clarity on what he was thinking, how he feels and what he hopes to learn.
Saying “the ballpark is for everybody, we include all fans at the ballpark, we want to welcome everybody,” is a good message for a team to share with potential customers. But a better message is our society is for everybody, we include all people in society and we want to welcome everyone.
Hopefully he gets there, or even to a place of live and let live, which in these polarized times might be the best-case scenario.
But the test is in the doing, not the talking.
As Schneider, said, “it’s not a 12- or 15-second fix in terms of a statement. It’s having genuine conversations with your team and with your staff that you’re with every day and from there continuing to try to make amends for it. We’re not going to pretend like this never happened and not going to pretend like this is the end of it, move on. There’s definitely more steps that are probably going to follow.”
The steps that follow are what matters.
In 2013, when Yunel Escobar took to the field with a homophobic slur scrawled across his eye black, the Blue Jays went through a series of training sessions aimed at building tolerance. In 2017, when Kevin Pillar muttered an anti-Gay slur at Atlanta reliever Jason Motte during a game, he worked for atonement, meeting with members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community and donating forfeited salary to PFLAG, an advocacy and support group, and the Toronto branch of You Can Play, which seeks to make sports safe and open for athletes regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Bass’ apology Tuesday was Crisis Management 101. It’s up to him and the Blue Jays to prove it was more than that.