Opinions drown in political correctness

January 05, 2000|By Gregory Kane

WOULD someone please pause and reflect before we make Atlanta Braves relief pitcher John Rocker the official bat boy for bigotry and -- excuse me, I think I'm going to be sick -- "sensitivity"?

Most of you have heard by now. Sports Illustrated recently did a story on Rocker, in which the pitcher reiterated -- correctly, it must be pointed out -- how obnoxious some New York sports fans can be. Fans of the New York Mets drew Rocker's particular ire. But he also had choice comments about New York in general. Rocker made them, thinking he still lived in an America where he was free to speak his mind. Reaction to his comments must have given him a rude awakening.

Rocker referred to taking the subway and having to ride next to a guy dying of AIDS (he didn't say gay) along with a single mom with four children and a man who just got out of jail "for the fourth time." He also made it clear he has no liking for foreigners, lamenting the fact he can walk around New York and hear no English being spoken.

A torrent of self-righteous bleating immediately followed Rocker's remarks. Major league baseball Commissioner Bud Selig is, probably as you read this, contemplating what kind of punishment he will throw at Rocker. Thank heavens the rest of American society isn't run like major league baseball. How many of us would escape chastisement for opinions unbecoming political correctness?

I wouldn't. The truth is, I've made similar comments about New York. The target of my disdain was the Big Apple's cabbies. When black actor Danny Glover made a big brouhaha about New York cabbies passing him by, my reaction went something like this:

"Why would he want to ride in a New York cab? New York cabbies can't drive and can barely speak or understand English."

Yes, I said that. I'm glad I said it. And when the New York Daily News posted some data showing that the percentage of black students who passed a functional reading test was only two points higher than Hispanic students, I moaned that African-American students were only slightly better than an ethnic group with large numbers of folks who probably couldn't read or speak English.

So I expect to hear from the gaggle of critics who have struck out at John Rocker and branded him a bigot. But here's something Rocker knockers won't say: They're no better than he is.

If they think they are, I challenge them to take the "unlocked passenger-side door" test. Drive to any black neighborhood in any large American city and leave the passenger-side door unlocked. They will no doubt have to stop at a red light. At some point, they may notice anywhere from one to five young black men standing on the corner. If they reach over and lock the passenger-side door, they fail the test.

Most of those folks who've rebuked Rocker and claim they get all warm and fuzzy inside at the thought of ethnic and racial diversity would fail this test. Liberals would likely reach for the lock faster than conservatives. Rocker probably wouldn't lock the door. If anyone approached his car, Rocker would probably jump out and beat his butt.

In fact, Rocker would be in better shape if he had leaped from his car and cold-cocked a potential mugger or carjacker. His Sports Illustrated comments harmed no one. They ticked quite a few people off, but they harmed no one. And, since no one has proposed this, Rocker's perfectly entitled to his opinion.

But in the thought-crime climate of 20th-century America, there are those who aren't satisfied with Rocker simply being criticized for his comments. Some have suggested Atlanta Braves owner Ted Turner fire Rocker. What, exactly, would be the grounds for Rocker's ejection: reckless opining? Refusal to adhere to enforced conformity?

This is the same kind of thinking that led to former Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott being "disciplined" by major league baseball honchos for making Hitler-philic comments. The notion that some folks harbor opinions about Adolf Hitler in contrast to our own simply doesn't wash with the modern-era thought police. But there may be another reason major league baseball was so quick to punish Schott and wants to bean Rocker.

It's called fan reaction.

Schott was punished before fans could protest by staying away from Riverfront Stadium in droves. Selig wants to act before Atlanta fans genuinely upset with Rocker's remarks show their disdain by keeping their dollars in their pockets.

Let's not delude ourselves. If Rocker is punished, it will be because he threatens the flow of dollars into major league baseball's coffers, not for anything he said.

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