Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Rocker’s Punishment: A First Amendment Wrong

Rocker’s Punishment: A First Amendment Wrong

By Tim Sullivan Hoya Staff Writer

When my beloved New York Mets were finally ousted from the playoffs last October, one of the few things in which I could take solace was the fact that I wouldn’t have to deal with Atlanta’s John Rocker anymore. At the time, he seemed like a harmless sideshow attraction to what was the greatest playoff series in recent memory.

I’m ashamed to say this in light of what has happened in the interim, but until his comments appeared in Sports Illustrated in December, I had a bizarre affinity for the guy.

Don’t get me wrong; his utter dominance of the Mets lineup killed me at the time. But I thought, “If I were a big league manager, this would be the kind of closer I would want.”

I thought, “you have to love a guy who sprints out of the bullpen, taunts the most hostile crowd in American sports, throws the ball nearly 100 miles an hour and wins.” If it had been against any other team in the world, I probably would have liked him.

That was until, of course, The Interview.

In the span of a relatively brief article, he transformed himself from a national curiosity into a national villain. In one fell swoop, he managed to offend nearly every minority group in the country as if it were second nature.

On Monday, Bud Selig, the inmate running baseball’s asylum, announced that Rocker had been suspended by the league for 50 days and fined $20,000 as a result of offending “practically every element of society,” according to Selig.

Let me be perfectly clear: the comments Rocker made in his interview with Sports Illustrated are deplorable. No sentient human being could ever honestly harbor opinions as ignorant as those that Rocker thrust into the national spotlight. How he looks himself in the mirror, I will never know.

His suspension, however, is wrong as well. He is being punished for his thoughts, and not his actions, which violates one of the fundamental tenets of our republic, freedom of speech and, what’s more, does not address the problem created by Rocker.

Yes, in America, you can be fined and jailed for what is tantamount to speech. Just ask Marge Schott, whom the league suspended for racially insensitive comments early in the ’90s. Executives at the Texaco Corporation were heavily fined for making insensitive statements in the course of office banter. These cases differ significantly from Rocker’s however.

Both Schott and the Texaco executives were in management positions, where their beliefs and thoughts were likely to have a direct impact on their actions, such as in hiring practices. Rocker is merely a relief pitcher; his decision to be a bigot, while violating nearly everyone’s sense of right and wrong, does not violate anyone’s rights.

As offensive as it may be, Rocker is allowed to hate whomever he wants, provided he does no more than hate.

There have been several justifications for Rocker’s suspension offered in its wake. One is that baseball needed to punish Rocker because he is a role model. I balk at that.

It is a sad commentary on our society if someone as detestable as Rocker could ever be considered a role model solely by virtue of the fact that he is a professional athlete.

The past few years have seen far too many headlines involving troubled athletes for us to automatically classify every professional athlete as a role model anymore. It is high time we think about who we are holding up for the children of America to idolize, and John Rocker is the quintessential example of why.

That isn’t to say that athletes shouldn’t be considered role models; many exhibit the virtues we should be trying to cultivate as a society. Sports have an amazing ability to inspire; at their best, they can show us the very model of how to conduct ourselves. At their worst, unfortunately, they have the ability to do just the opposite, through people like John Rocker.

You can make the argument that Rocker is part of a corporation, ajor League Baseball, which has a reputation to uphold. But does suspending him for the first month of the season solve Rocker’s, or baseball’s, problems? Hardly; the man is still going to be a nationally televised bigot when he sprints out of the pen, no matter how long he has been sent to his room to think about what he’s done.

Rocker’s real punishment cannot come from the league; punishing extremely talented athletes via suspension or fines doesn’t work. Look around professional sports. From Steve Howe to Leon Lett, suspensions and fines have been ineffective in correcting bad behavior.

His real punishment is something the league has no control over. It will come when he walks into the Braves clubhouse for the first time in spring training. The outrage expressed by many of his teammates was among the most caustic of any published reaction to Rocker’s inexcusable tirade.

Pitching coach Leo Mazzone said that he thought Rocker would probably be finished in pro baseball, unable to recover from the controversy he created.

It will come when he has to look fellow relief pitcher Bruce Chen, an Asian-American, in the eye from across the bullpen. His punishment will be meted out when Randall Simon, who believes Rocker was referring to him when he called a teammate “a fat monkey” in the SI interview, finally gets his chance to confront Rocker in the locker room, away from the cameras.

It will come when he gets booed at Turner Stadium in Atlanta, where the mayor and citizens have been calling for his head since the article’s publication.

And boy, oh boy, will it come the next time Rocker and the Braves roll in to New York to play the Mets. If I were a network executive, I would think twice about televising a game sure to have as many chanted profanities as base hits.

The Braves first games against the Mets are in late June; maybe if Rocker is lucky, by then the furor over his hate mongering will have died down. Possible, but not likely, John. If I were you, I would start booking a trip to Bermuda for the weekend of June 29.

In the end, unfortunately, the storm will probably blow over for Rocker. His suspension has been appealed, and since it is unprecedented, it is likely to be overturned. Even if the Braves don’t want him anymore, don’t think that we will finally be rid of sports’ biggest pariah this side of O.J. You have to look no further than Latrell Sprewell to realize that as long as he can mow down opposing batters, someone is going to be willing to put up with Rocker’s abrasive personality.

Unlike Spree, however, it’s really unlikely to be in New York.

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