It has been said that while comic books may be nonsense, the history of comic books is scholarship. That is the spirit in which to approach the John Rocker controversy. A pitcher for the Atlanta Braves baseball team, Rocker made disparaging remarks about minorities and New York City that merit as little attention as comic books. But the reaction to those comments is worthy of inspection. There is a great deal to be learned from the anti-Rocker hysteria fomented by the media.
Hysteria is the correct term. Consider what Rocker actually said. Rocker made his comments late last year to a Sports Illustrated reporter while driving to give a speech at a school for learning-disabled children -- the media's favorite sexist, bigot, and racist may even have a kind heart. And what were the comments?
He began by spouting off at a bad driver:
"So many dumbasses don't know how to drive in this town. They turn from the wrong lane. They go 20 miles per hour. . . . Look! Look at this idiot! I guarantee you she's a Japanese woman." This bit of traffic stereotyping has led the media and Major League Baseball to label Rocker a sexist and anti-Asian.
Then America's pariah made the remarks that led to his widespread labeling as a bigot. When asked if he would ever play for a New York team, Rocker said:
"I would retire first. It's the most hectic, nerve-racking city. Imagine having to take the [Number] 7 train to the ballpark, looking like you're [riding through] Beirut next to 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, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It's depressing.
"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. Asians and Koreans and Vietnamese and Indians and Russians and Spanish people and everything up there. How the hell did they get in this country?"
And why the charges of racism against Rocker? According to the reporter, "In passing, he calls an overweight black teammate 'a fat monkey.'"
Let's now summarize Rocker's comments by target:
ASIANS: Rocker assumes a bad driver is Japanese.
WOMEN: Rocker assumes that a bad driver is a woman.
GAYS: Rocker refers to a hypothetical subway passenger as a "queer" and associates AIDS with him.
NEW YORKERS: The hypothetical subway riders are a punk, a criminal, and an overly productive young mother.
FOREIGNERS: Rocker is not a "big fan" and is uncomfortable with New York having so many people who do not speak English.
BLACKS: Rocker refers to a teammate as a "fat monkey."
For these comments -- which feature but one deliberately pejorative term (queer is inexcusable when meant derogatorily, though it is increasingly used by gays in academia and elsewhere) -- made to a reporter asking about his feelings regarding New York and its fans, John Rocker's name has now been sullied more than that of any other athlete, and almost any public figure, in memory. It should be pointed out that Rocker was being interviewed in the first place because of a highly marketable ongoing feud between the pitcher and New York baseball fans.
There is little question that a media mob set out after Rocker not for reasons of moral principle or damage to the sport but because, for all their talk against hatred, many liberals have a great deal of hate, and the liberal media frequently foment it. Had Rocker beaten his girl-friend or wife, he would have been ignored. Had he choked his coach as Latrell Sprewell, now a beloved New York Knicks player, did, he might have received a sympathetic 3,000 word profile in the New York Times Magazine. Had he sold heroin, he would have been punished, but no columnist or editorialist or comic would have humiliated him, no fans would have cursed him as tens of thousands recently did in Los Angeles and as packed stadiums no doubt will in New York when his team plays there at the end of June.