- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 16, 2000

John Rocker, as even those who don't follow the national pastime know, is a 25-year-old relief pitcher for the Atlanta Braves who was once equally as famous for his pitching prowess as for his big mouth. Then came the Sports Illustrated interview last month that made his mouth more famous make that more infamous than any 95-mph fastball.

Here, for the record, are the remarks in question, labeled "unconscionable" and "repugnant" by Braves president Stan Kasten, and "reprehensible" and "completely inexcusable" by baseball commissioner Bud Selig. Rocker described riding New York's No. 7 train alongside "some kid with purple hair next to some queer with AIDS right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids." Then he sounded off about immigrants: "The biggest thing I don't like about New York are the foreigners. I'm not a very big fan of 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?"

The condemnation of Rocker whose chronicled outbursts also include spitting at a tollbooth, calling a teammate a "fat monkey," and disparaging Asian female drivers has been nothing short of unanimous, from columnists to councilmen, from right wing to left wing, punctuated by angry calls for his termination from the Braves, even from baseball itself.

Students of manners and mores should note that where, for example, oral sex in the Oval Office and lying about it failed to trigger universal condemnation, a morally fragmented society has united to judge Rocker as social anathema. And more than that, baseball believes Mr. Rocker's thinking may actually reflect a mental disorder, ordering him to undergo psychological testing.

Rocker is nobody's poster boy for good nature, good conduct or good sense. In fact, he is a boor. But what precisely in his words provoked the intense and overwhelming reaction against him? Can it be his observations about the subway? Not likely. New York City subways are so well-known for their colorful patrons that you don't have to ride the train to recognize the central casting description of punks, teen mothers, AIDS sufferers and ex-cons that Mr. Rocker listed. The slang word "queer" is an ugly one, but in an age when profanity is, alas, in common use, probably not sufficiently rancorous to ruin a career. As far as walking through Times Square without hearing English spoken, the ballplayer is not far off the mark. After all, since Ellis Island opened more than a century ago, never has the ratio of newcomers to natives in New York City been higher, with 100 nationalities represented in the city.

But John Rocker, as he puts it, is "not a very big fan of foreigners." This statement is considered Rocker's most heinous transgression heinous to the point, according to his employers, that he requires mental help (to become a big fan of foreigners?).

One may have a higher regard for immigrants than Rocker does and still not consider his disagreement a firing offense or psychological problem. The Rocker reaction suggests that, according to American sensibilities and sensitivities circa 2000, negative comments about "foreigners" read: mass immigration are beyond the pale, a bona fide social taboo future anthropologists and historians may one day study. Not so the anti-Christian remarks of a Jesse Ventura or a Ted Turner; or the anti-Semitism and racism of a Louis Farrakhan, or an Al Sharpton (whose star, incidentally, only grows more lustrous as Democratic candidates such as Bill Bradley and Hillary Clinton seek his political blessing); or the anti-black-Republican invective of a Donna Brazile.

Societies always have sacred cows, of course, but some cows are more sacred than others.

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