John Rocker condemned not for what he said, but how he said it

If opinion writers were held to the same standard of intelligence which they apply to their subjects, most of them wouldnít have jobs. The pinheads and pointy-heads of the world should spend more time listening and less time pontificating.
    A lot of ink and newsprint is being wasted by columnists around the country condemning John Rocker, a pitcher for the Atlanta Braves. In a Sports Illustrated article, Rocker had some unkind things to say about New York City and its residents. Boy, thatís news. Stop the presses.
    Rocker, a man with a limited education, was labeled a racist for his remarks. Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Claire Smith, formerly of the Hartford Courant, described Rocker as " a xenophobic, homophobic, sexist, racist Neanderthal." A letter to the New York Times demanded that " the baseball commissioner should act to bar this hopeless bigot from baseball." Clarence Page wrote that he feels sorry for Rocker whose "mind is apparently too narrow to appreciate . . .the most culturally rich piece of real estate on the planet."
    What these know-it-alls fail to recognize is that they are vilifying Rocker not for what he said, but for how he said it.
     Rocker doesnít need sensitivity training, he needs a re-write man. Hereís what he said:  "Imagine having to take the (subway) looking like youíre (in) Beirut next some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. Itís depressing."
    Hereís what he should have said: " I find spending time in New York to be very distressing. Amidst this land of plenty, it is demoralizing to be confronted by so much abject poverty and human suffering. So much of our youth is rebellious, as evidenced by all the teenagers you see with dyed hair and body piercings ĖĖ clearly, we are not spending enough money on education for these youngsters."
    "The terrible scourge of AIDS is so widespread, the person next to you on the subway might very well be one of its victims. Itís hard to purposely subject yourself to the anguish of seeing this sort of thing on a daily basis. Like so many of us, I find it psychologically necessary to maintain a certain detachment from all this in my day-today life".
    "Of course public safety is a concern for me. You never know if one of the young men you see taking the seat next to you in a subway car might have a history of involvement with the justice system. And there are so many babies having babies it just breaks your heart. We need to address the social pathologies causing this and to teach our young people that there are better options."
    Rocker was also called an immigrant-basher. What he said: "The biggest thing I donít like about New York are the foreigners, . . . You can walk an entire block in Times Square and not hear anybody speaking English. How the hell did they get in this country?"
    What he should have said: "The English language is the common vehicle by which we are able to celebrate the grand diversity of our culture. It is the strong yet breakable thread which binds together our republic. Perhaps we are courting disunity by having immigration laws so lax one can walk through many areas of our major cities and hear nothing but foreign tongues being spoken."
    With these few tweaks, Rocker could have held forth on the same subjects and no one would have uttered a peep in response. Voicing opinions is a lot like pitching a baseball -- it's all in the delivery.
    The media created such a stir about Rockeríís remarks that he issued a retraction and an apology. In a written statement Rocker said: "I want everyone to understand that my emotions fuel my competitive desire. They are a source of energy for me. However, I have let my emotions get the best of my judgment."
    It sounds like Rocker went out and got himself a good re-write man.


December 28, 1999