After spending Wednesday evening and Thursday morning, like millions of others, following the surreal social media manhunt for the alleged beer can thrower at the Blue Jays' Tuesday night playoff game, and after realizing that the man in the widely-circulated police photo was good friend Ken Pagan, Paul McLean was determined to do something to help.
"I knew he was at the game, and it just didn't seem like something Ken would do," McLean thought as he drove to work Thursday morning. In shock like many others in the North Bay sporting and media community, McLean came up with the #FREEPAGZ movement.
McLean's Skater's Edge Source for Sports is selling T-shirts emblazoned with the hashtag for $10 at their main location on Fisher Street. Half of the proceeds will go to a defence fund for Pagan, who now lives in Hamilton, but was a well-known sportsman and member of the media locally.
Thursday night, Pagan turned himself in to Metro Toronto Police, and he was subsequently charged with mischief under $5,000.
This latest development has not deterred McLean nor his staff from trying to help out an old friend. "This is for a cause. Ken Pagan was a great contributor to minor sports in North Bay and a great athlete, and this seemed like the right thing to do," said McLean from his shop where #FREEPAGZ t-shirts were being pressed just across the room.
McLean does have an alternate charitable goal in mind if, in fact, Pagan pleads guilty. "If I'm wrong, we will take the money that's raised, I'll double it myself, and we'll donate it to North Bay minor baseball."
The story has lost some steam in the US, as major media outlets are covering the approach of Hurricane Matthew, but The Toronto Star and Inside Edition, among others, have reached out to McLean.
The support for Pagan is not just on the local level, McLean said, as "We've sold 50 shirts in-store, and we've taken orders for 20 more that are being shipped to Alberta, Manitoba, Waterloo, Oakville, Timmins, Owen Sound. My phone just keeps going off."
"Five dollars from every shirt goes towards helping Ken clear his name. Even though he has been charged, he is innocent until proven guilty. If this was a mistake on Ken's part, then I'm sure he'll understand and appreciate us donating the money to minor baseball," explained McLean.
Besides their history together, McLean said he felt bad for Pagan and the social media flurry that followed the release of his photo. "This case is a strange obsession, so much focus on one thing. Don't forget, at the same time this happened, there were racial slurs being hurled by people surrounding him."
Asked about the social media phenomenon that the Pagan affair generated, McLean said, "Look at the election in the US, there's a lot of other things that could be the focus (other than Pagan). There's 250 people dead from the hurricane in Haiti."
McLean believes that #FREEPAGZ can go beyond just raising money, possibly even helping Pagan get his life back in order if he is convicted. "I saw a tweet last night from (Canadian comedian) Gerry Dee, saying 'let's leave this guy alone,' and I think #FREEPAGZ could evolve into something more, maybe about not being so quick to judge somebody on social media."