Let this whole Rocker thing go

The good news is that while you're reading this, humanity has only 18 hours at most before it can revert back to its rotten self.

Ah, Christmas. Such a time of love and hope, for one day at least. It's a lesson we seem to pick up during the holidays, but one that quickly seems to wear off.

Such is the case with the Enemies of John Rocker, a political action committee waiting to happen. Hopefully nobody got them a gift subscription to Sports Illustrated for Christmas, because a present like that is sure to put you atop their fruitcake list for next year.

In case you haven't heard, the Atlanta Braves reliever made a royal fool of himself in this week's SI. Here's a selection of Rocker's Pearls of Wisdom. Careful, they aren't for the faint of heart:

-- ''Imagine having to take the (No.) 7 train to (Shea Stadium) looking like you're (in) Beirut next to some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who 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. 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?''

-- ''Look! Look at this idiot,'' he said of a driver. ''I guarantee you she's a Japanese woman. How bad are Asian women at driving?''

To call these words "offensive" is probably an understatement.

Rocker has since retracted the remarks, and to his credit he didn't deny making them. In his statement, he said he was wrong and "contrite."

To me, that's enough, and that may be surprising for a lot of people who know me. I grew up around people of different races, and I learned to look past skin color while growing up.

Still, I have seen enough instances of racism - both blatant and institutional - in America that I'm sensitive to it. And I've seen discrimination against homosexuals as well, which is probably a bigger problem in society today than the discrimination minorities face.

But while I think Rocker's remarks are despicable, at least he had the good sense to admit he was wrong and didn't blame it on anyone else. Isn't that the best reaction we could hope for?

Others are overreacting to further extremes.

Already groups that represent homosexuals, AIDS victims and minorities are calling for Rocker's suspension. Some are asking for his retirement, while others would love a good old Pete Rose Special.

Still, I don't see the benefits of terminating the prodigal pitcher.

I think that by suspending Rocker's career we make his statements more insidious and damaging than they would be by themselves.

Let's face it - the public knows Rocker is no rocket scientist, and it has appropriately blown off his remarks as sheer ignorance. If baseball were to suspend him for what he said, you only give his incredible views more credibility.

And we also know that Rocker's best punishment will be living with the consequences of his comments, especially on those long road trips to New York.

I could see it if Rocker showed no remorse, but for now let's give him the benefit of the doubt.

We haven't even touched on the legality of firing or suspending Rocker for something he did off the field. The Carolina Panthers suspended Rae Carruth because he's accused of murder. Atlanta would only be suspending Rocker for bad taste, which is hardly a crime.

Imagine your boss firing you for speaking out against something at a planning commission meeting, or voting for his least-favorite candidate in the presidential election next fall.

John Rocker isn't some dictator hell-bent on wiping out foreigners and homosexuals. He isn't in a position to turn his vitriol into policy.

He's paid to throw the ball 100 mph and win world titles. A relief pitcher's observations about ethnicity and sexual preference are about as valid - and dangerous - as my thoughts on aerospace engineering.

What would suspending Rocker accomplish?

If he's likely to make comments like that again, how much more so would it be if he was living out the public eye? By keeping him at center stage, playing baseball would help instill good habits in him. Ones that make him watch what he says, no matter who is listening.

So I say let him stay.

It would give our toxic culture a chance to model something sorely needed today: the ability to forgive. We expect perfection from everybody but ourselves.

Why heap hate upon people that hate when our goal is the exact opposite?

The changes of these past two decades have taught us that it's right to get upset at injustice, especially from those in the public eye. But perhaps we've swung too far to the left, and now we're long on indignance and short on the ability to forgive.

These are the lessons we haven't learned after Columbine, Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder and Al Campanis. The result is more tragedy, more missteps, more mistrust and a poisoned spirit that stifles progress.

It's a lesson we seem to observe only when in the "spirit of the holidays."

Perhaps it's one we should practice more often.

Jeremy Littau is the Nevada Appeal sports editor.


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