John Rocker, the Atlanta Braves’ relief pitcher whose opinions about New York and its citizenry has earned him a monthlong suspension from baseball, may seem to be one of the sporting world’s great villains. But if baseball’s commissioner, Bud Selig, really believes that Mr. Rocker’s comments “offended practically every element of society,” he doesn’t know his audience. In fact, Mr. Rocker has become a hero to thousands of non-New Yorkers who have made him a digital poster boy for on-line racists, bigots and New York-haters.
For example, at Stormfront.org, the Web’s largest and oldest white supremacist organization (now there’s a claim to fame!), chat rooms are buzzing with hundreds of tributes to Mr. Rocker, who made news in December by castigating New York’s gays, immigrants and single mothers. One chat room participant wrote a poem entitled “Off Your Rocker?” The poem’s sentiments can be summed up in four lines: “So you think that the country’s becoming/ A little bit over-exotic./ If you were a baseball player,/ They’d suspect that you were psychotic.” Not the sort of writing they teach in graduate school, although it does make its point clear.
Another participant in the chat session said that “what the Jews and liberals fear the most, they fear the truth … What ‘we’ need to do is support John Rocker …” The on-line magazine American Renaissance , which features a picture of the pitcher, warns that “the Rocker story is one more reminder that white Americans aren’t even allowed to have their own perspective anymore. It’s no longer permissible even to be provincial … No room in this world for cracker boys.”
Thenthere’sIlovewhitefolks.com, which features an anonymous article entitled “Here’s to John Rocker.” “The witch hunt is on, and I expect to see John Rocker either crawling on his hands and knees in apology soon, or be run out of baseball,” the article reads. “That is what happens in our country today if you do not worship at the altar of diversity. You can do drugs, rape women or any other sort of thing you want, and still play pro sports, but you can never, ever, disparage the sacred pseudo-religion of Diversity.”
The Web site for the Council of Conservative Citizens (cofcc.org)-a St. Louis-based white supremacist organization-directs readers to “The John Rocker Page,” where the relief pitcher’s saga is recounted under the headlines “Enter, the Grand Inquisitors,” and “To the Gulag, Go!” A pro-Rocker screed charges that in “this emerging New World (just as in the Soviet world of old), the powers that be have given notice that henceforth dissidents will be dealt with by psychiatric means.”
Mr. Rocker’s troubles started when he insulted New York Mets fans during the National League Championship Series last October. Then he elaborated on his views of New Yorkers to a Sports Illustrated reporter during the off-season. “The biggest thing I don’t like about New York are the foreigners … How the hell did they get in this country?” he said.
Mr. Rocker went on to call one teammate a “fat monkey” and to complain about riding the No. 7 train with “some kid with purple hair next to some queer with AIDS … and some 20-year old mom with four kids. It’s depressing.” The reaction was swift, and Mr. Rocker was ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluation. Members of the rock band Twisted Sister, whose song, “I Wanna Rock,” introduced Mr. Rocker’s appearances at home games, denounced the pitcher. Then, on Jan. 31, Major League Baseball passed sentence on Mr. Rocker with the suspension and a fine.
Both Mr. Rocker and Braves owner Ted Turner declined to comment on the pitcher’s popularity among hate groups. But his supporters are not nearly as reluctant to speak out. David Duke, ex-Ku Klux Klansman, onetime Presidential candidate and recently named president of National Organization for European-American Rights, told The Observer that Mr. Rocker “expressed an opinion and I think that opinion is shared by many millions of Americans, and that opinion is more prevalent than the media would let us believe.” Stormfront.org director Don Black said in an interview that Mr. Rocker “pretty much said what most people feel. He was asked about New York, and most people, when they look and see what’s happened to their country and the cities, they become a little angry. He’s no different than anyone else. It’s unfortunate that they can’t express their true feelings.”
Of Mr. Rocker’s decision to recant his statements, Mr. Black said, “He wants to stay in baseball. Obviously, it would have been better if he had stood his ground.”
That opinion seems to be shared among some of those who agreed with Mr. Rocker’s remarks. William Pierce, leader of the National Alliance, a West Virginia-based anti-Semitic organization and author of The Turner Diaries , a fictional account of a race war, which inspired Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, recently said that he saw “nothing heroic about John Rocker.”
“He simply blurted out what he was thinking and then began groveling and apologizing as soon as the Jews jumped on him for it,” Mr. Pierce said. “If, when the media began demanding an apology, he had told them loudly and publicly, ‘Up the chimney, Jew boys!’ I would consider him a hero. Of course, if he had acted heroically, he would have lost his very lucrative employment instantly. Big business and the media have no use for heroism. It scares them.”
Matthew Hale, who serves as “Pontifex Maximus” of the World Church of the Creator, which he runs out of his mother’s house in Chicago, said, “We’re disappointed that he didn’t show the resolve to stand by his statements but sending someone to a psychological exam because of their point of view is wrong.”
By turning Mr. Rocker’s opinions into evidence of a medical condition, Major League Baseball opened itself up to the obvious criticism that Mr. Rocker has been dispatched to the equivalent of a re-education camp. Suddenly, bigots and haters can claim to be First Amendment heroes. And suddenly John Rocker, of all people, is a martyr. And Mr. Turner will now be able to welcome back his star pitcher in May, announcing to the world that Mr. Rocker has been cured of his malady.
In which case his supporters may have to discard him in favor of a new hero. There’s a politician in Austria who has been making news lately, although it’s not certain whether the Freedom Party’s Jörg Haider has ever taken the Flushing line to Queens.