Even rockers are ripping Rocker

Band asks theme song ban

Bradley, Gore take shots

January 19, 2000|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Embattled Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker has tried to apologize for the inflammatory diatribe he delivered against homosexuals, minorities and "foreigners" in a recent interview with Sports Illustrated, but his critics continue to pile on.

Rocker was a hot topic during Monday night's Democratic presidential debate, during which he was vilified by Vice President Al Gore and former New Jersey senator Bill Bradley.

Rocker also was the target of a demonstration yesterday outside CNN headquarters in Atlanta, where 75 protesters hoped to persuade Time Warner Inc. -- the parent company of CNN and the Braves -- to order the ballclub to punish Rocker for his offensive comments.

But perhaps the strangest repudiation came from a member of the heavy metal band Twisted Sister, who has asked the Braves to stop playing the group's song "I Wanna Rock" whenever Rocker comes in from the bullpen -- because the band does not want to be aligned in any way with the pitcher's racially tinged rhetoric.

Twisted Sister wasn't exactly an icon of political correctness during the height of the band's popularity in the 1980s. Their "Shoot'em Dead" evoked the kind of disturbing images that would become frighteningly real during the recent wave of school shootings.

Nevertheless, Twisted Sister co-founder Jay Jay French blasted Rocker and informed Atlantic Records and the Braves that the band wanted its music removed from the play list at Turner Field.

"These comments were way too damaging to be considered flip comments," French said. "One must take responsibility for the ramifications when you say something like that, and this is just our way of voicing our displeasure."

Rocker already has conceded that point. He has admitted that he was "a jerk" when he took his feud with New York baseball fans to a new and disturbing level in the Sports Illustrated interview.

But his description of a theoretical ride in the New York subway " next to some queer with AIDS next to some guy who just got out of prison for the fourth time next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids" and his intolerant comments about "foreigners" has made him the poster boy for political incorrectness.

And the perfect foil for anyone trying to make political hay.

Bradley used Monday night's presidential debate to criticize Rocker and to chastise the Braves for failing to create a better clubhouse environment.

"I don't know John Rocker and I don't want to know John Rocker," said Bradley, who played in the NBA before entering politics. "But I do know one thing: This would not have happened had an organization and a team [been] attuned to the kind of things that he said.

"When I was on the Knicks, one of my jobs was when there was a white player that came on the team who didn't quite understand used the wrong words I took him over to the side and said, `Look, that doesn't work on this team. If you want to be on this team, you respect everybody.' If that had happened on the Atlanta Braves, you wouldn't have had John Rocker."

Minority activists in Atlanta have been highly critical of the Braves for failing to take strong disciplinary measures against Rocker, but the club is under instructions from Major League Baseball to refrain from announcing anything until commissioner Bud Selig determines what further action he will take.

Selig ordered Rocker to undergo a psychological evaluation -- which reportedly took place in Baltimore last week -- and has left open the possibility of a large fine or suspension.

"There is a misconception out there -- people blaming us for not doing anything," Braves spokesman Jim Schultz said yesterday. "We're in a holding pattern until Major League Baseball says something.

"Just a day or two after the story came out, Major League Baseball informed us that they were taking over jurisdiction -- because they felt his comments impacted all of baseball."

The Braves also are limited by baseball's collective bargaining agreement to imposing a very modest fine and suspension that likely would be viewed as an insult to minority advocacy groups.

Major League Baseball isn't in a much better position to impose a severe penalty on Rocker. Selig was able to levy a lengthy suspension on former Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott under similar circumstances because she had signed onto the major leagues' ownership contract that gave baseball's Executive Council (Selig was not the permanent commissioner at the time) sweeping power to act in the best interests of the industry.

Selig's power to discipline Rocker is governed by baseball's collective bargaining agreement with the Major League Baseball Players Association, which likely will file a grievance to overturn any substantial disciplinary action.

The union has never been afraid to champion an unpopular cause in the interests of one of its members. In 1998, the MLBPA filed a successful grievance to force Anaheim to put Tony Phillips back in the lineup after he was arrested in a crack cocaine bust, even after the Angels offered to continue to pay Phillips if he agreed to undergo drug rehabilitation.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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