- The Washington Times - Monday, July 3, 2000

Last month, 19-year-old Braves shortstop Rafael Furcal lost control of his rented Mercedes and wound up in the custody of police, charged with driving under the influence and underage drinking.

Furcal apologized, and life moved forward in Atlanta. There was no outrage, no hand-wringing, no national debate. The event barely resonated in the news media.

Furcal made a mistake and vowed not to repeat it, and that was that.

"It won't happen again," Braves general manager John Schuerholz said.

That is the hope anyway, and it is a hope America shares with the Braves.

The stories involving drunken drivers do not always end in tidy fashion. Sometimes, as Mothers Against Drunk Driving would attest, the stories end in death.

The muted reaction to Furcal's misadventure on the highway is curious, considering the long-running furor over John Rocker's silly interview with Sports Illustrated last winter.

Actions used to speak louder than words in America. Now, it seems, depending on a person's political fitness, words are perceived to be more damaging than a drunken driver careening down the road.

Unfortunately for Rocker, he is a white male from the South. He is an easy political target. He is a redneck. He is a cracker. He is an oppressor. And he is angry, too. He is one of those angry white males who prays at Rush Limbaugh's altar.

Sandy Tolan, author of a glorified love letter to Hank Aaron, lends a ludicrous amount of importance to Rocker.

"The volatile relief pitcher now is a dangerous symbol of racial division and should be jettisoned from his team," Tolan wrote in USA Today.

Tolan's tolerance goes only so far.

That is too bad, given the subject matter, the passenger list on the No. 7 train to Shea Stadium: "a kid with purple hair, a queer with AIDS, a dude out of jail for the fourth time and a 20-year-old mom with four kids."

Tolan feels their pain. He does not feel Rocker's pain.

It hardly matters that Rocker was fined, suspended and required to undergo sensitivity training by baseball. It hardly matters that he has apologized an unthinkable number of times and has been condemned by his employers and teammates. It hardly matters that his original comments were intended to up the ante with a city that showered him with boos and batteries last season.

His comedic attempt was stale, to say the least, the material seemingly lifted from a comedy club.

That, too, hardly matters.

As Tolan breathlessly notes, Rocker has become a "dangerous symbol."

No cities are in flames because of Rocker, and his first trip to "Hymietown" this season was mostly unremarkable.

Of course, Hymietown is not an acceptable synonym for New York City, although it was favored by the former Shadow (Jesse Jackson). Yet America survived the inappropriateness, as did the former Shadow, in short order.

Thankfully, the former Shadow did not see himself transformed into a "dangerous symbol" who should be "jettisoned" from his place of employment.

If verbal transgressions were the standard, America would become the land of the unemployed overnight.

The public probably would be shocked to learn that even journalists sometimes make inappropriate comments. In their defense, these self-appointed judges of good taste have the sense to limit their inanities to family and friends.

Despite the apologies, Rocker has stoked a story he undoubtedly would like to see go away. He threatened the Sports Illustrated reporter before being sent down to Richmond. Soon after returning to the big leagues, he promised to ride the No. 7 train.

No one ever has accused Rocker of being a brain surgeon. He is liable to say anything, the importance of it falling somewhere in the range of the guests who appear on Jerry Springer's show.

No one thinks too hard about what passes for intellect on the Springer chairfest.

The same cannot be said with Rocker, who is whatever you want him to be, either a "dangerous symbol" or a symbol of free speech.

Rocker also could be just a relief pitcher with a big mouth.

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