Wednesday, October 7, 2015

John Rocker

Say what you will about John Rocker, one fact about the man cannot be denied. He certainly has personality. It’s abrasive, obnoxious, ignorant and unrepentant. But definitely not bland.

By now, sports fan or not, the average American probably knows who Rocker is, and many of them have been offended by him. Particularly if they belong to a minority group, are homosexual, or aren’t native born citizens of the U.S. Particularly if they live in New York city and ride the 7 train. I myself am a regular subway passenger in the Big Apple. Therefore, I can say in John’s defense that being jammed into a metal box with the huddled masses yearning to get to work can be quite aggravating. I will also admit, because I want to be as fair as possible, that if beer, batteries and curses had been flung at me for the sin of trying to do my job, I might be inclined to hold a grudge as well.
Here is one of many ways in which I differ from Rocker. If I was sitting next to a reporter from Sports Illustrated, I would make a concentrated effort not to spew the most vile, hateful commentary I could think up. That would make me more than just a bigot. It would make me an idiot. Or am I repeating myself?

And yet there is a part of me that applauds anyone who defies the regulations of political correctness. These rules do tend to be somewhat strict. Honesty is supposed to be an admirable trait, after all. Does the commandment about truthfulness become obsolete if the truth believed strikes some as tasteless and cruel?

Had Rocker remained true to his less than enlightened convictions, I may have formed a begrudging respect for him. Once the you-know-what hit the fan however, he resorted to self-serving excuses and flat out lies. Suddenly he did not mean the things he said in that interview, they were taken out of context, were the result of stressful circumstances. "My words got ahead of my head", is how he explained himself. He wanted to retaliate strictly against rabid Mets and Yankees fans, but ended up offending everyone who isn’t a member of the Aryan race. He now hopes to convince us that he doesn’t really consider a teammate of his to be a "fat monkey". That was just light hearted humor. I suppose we’re also supposed to believe that John is a proponent of immigration and does not have a racist or homophobic bone in his body. For his last trick, I’m guessing he tries to sell us all the Brooklyn Bridge.

The response of the powers that be in Major League Baseball to Rocker’s faux pas was nearly as ridiculous as his judgement was. He was forced to see a psychiatrist, as if being a redneck is equivalent to claustrophobia. Rocker did not hurl insults as he does baseballs because he’s crazy. Nor did he break the law, as first amendment groupies are quick to remind us. He has a Constitutional right to voice any opinion he wants, no matter how unpopular. Perhaps this is why Rocker instantly appealed his punishment (a $20,000 fine and 73 day suspension), in hope that it will be greatly reduced if not completely overturned. Then again, although the first amendment does keep people from being imprisoned for stating their beliefs, it does not protect them from the discipline of employers in the private sector. Rocker is legally entitled to speak his narrow mind, but has no right by law to play professional baseball.

There are those who feel he merely gave voice to beliefs that are commonly held but typically muffled. In some parts, not so muffled. Athletes have received lesser punishment for physically assaulting fellow players, officials and coaches; for testing positive for drugs; for being arrested and convicted of crimes. It is somewhat reasonable to feel Rocker has been treated unfairly, since he did not do anything wrong, but only said it. His supporters can stand up and applaud the man if they so choose. Others were appalled by what Rocker said, at what he appears to stand for. These folks also have a legitimate point. They can boycott Braves games, or perhaps show up at ballparks to let John know exactly what they think of him. Such are the plentiful options we have in a democratic society. Our government is so proud of this aspect that they are defying a foreign dictator and a little boy’s immediate family to keep the child hostage in the land of the free, home of the Atlanta Braves. But I digress.

I personally am glad Rocker said what he did, for I prefer that ignorance be brought to light than remain hidden where it can do covert damage. When there is an action, there is inevitably a reaction. Perhaps as damage control, Major League Baseball will arrange for the ascension of an extra minority or two to the ranks of upper management. Maybe more ballparks will stage cultural appreciation days, such as was done in Shea Stadium last year. If nothing else, the fallout from Rocker’s interview may help him develop greater tolerance. Given time, his head may one day catch up to his mouth. Plenty of ears on the 7 train will certainly be grateful for that.

John Rocker may have a valid point with one thing he said in his defense. "To make one comment like this doesn’t make you a racist." What little leaguers who idolize Major League stars like Rocker might not realize however, is that feeling and speaking as such is an effective way to get started as one.

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