Editorial by John Ziegler

A Nation that is off its Rocker

2/1/2000

There may be no greater evidence of the insanity of baseball's unprecedented suspension of John Rocker than the fact that Ted Turner is acting as the voice of reason.

Turner, a man to whom misguided comments seemingly come as naturally as a fastball comes to Rocker, simply responded to his pitcher's suspension by saying, "I don't think we ought to hold it (Rocker's comments) against him forever. He didn't commit a crime."

Is no one else alarmed at how far we have fallen from the founding principles of this nation when a socialist is the only one in a position of power who has the "courage" to stand up for the same free speech rights for which so much American blood has been spilled? Ted Turner (who only gets his "courage" in this case from the vested interest he has in John Rocker's pitching arm) is absolutely right. John Rocker has committed no crime, and, to tell you the truth, has DONE very little that is terribly inappropriate or even wrong. Unfortunately for him, one's words seem more important than one's actions (expect of course if your name is Bill Clinton... Didn't we learn from him that acts were more important than words? Boy, that rule changed quickly!), at least when special interest groups are concerned.

As hard as I'm sure it must be for Americans who grew up believing that in this nation you could never be punished for your thoughts and words (and that if you were that there would be a populous uprising), John Rocker, a relief pitcher on a baseball team, has now been ordered to undergo psychological testing (to which he submitted), been fined, been suspended for two months, and ordered to attend further sensitivity training (not to mention being publicly and universally vilified) all because he had the audacity to say that he doesn't like riding the New York subway system and seems to hold beliefs similar to Pat Buchanan of the issue of immigration.

Perhaps the MOST amazing aspect of this controversy is that NO ONE has stated EXACTLY WHAT it was that Rocker said that was so offensive as to warrant this kind of blatant overreaction. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig said only that Rocker's now infamous remarks (never saying which ones) "offended practically every element of society." Well, I realize that as a white male I am now outside the "mainstream of society," but I wasn't offended, and believe it or not I am apparently not alone. The overwhelming majority of those responding to online polls (I know they aren't supposed to be taken seriously, too many white males voting) believe that the actions taken against Rocker have been excessive. I will bet that the vast majority of those who were offended probably have little or no idea of WHAT it was that Rocker actually SAID in the Sports Illustrated article. Instead of stating the specifics of Rocker's remarks, most news reports simply paint the interview with the broad brush of "racial and ethnic remarks" and do so in a tone that implies that the details aren't necessary because they are so horrific.

Maybe I am even more out of touch than I previously thought, but I am HONESTLY stumped as to exactly where Rocker supposedly stepped over the invisible, transient line where appropriate public discourse ends and punishment for one's words begins. Making this confusion even more surprising is that this is a line with which I am personally all too familiar. As someone who has been fired TWICE in my life for comments made on the air (once in TV and once in radio, neither of which I believe was remotely justified), I have actually gone on national TV to DEFEND the right of my employers to wrongfully fire me for on-air comments. I believe that we have a constitutional right not to be punished by the government for anything we say, but that we do NOT have a constitutional right to be paid by an employer who has a legitimate reason to no longer want us to work for them.

At first glance this position may seem contradictory to my outrage over Rocker's punishment, but I believe that it is not. That is because I was a BROADCASTER. Words were my job. My job was to help the station I was working for "sell soap" and when they (wrongly) decided that my comments made it impossible for me to do that job they were within their rights to fire me. John Rocker is a BASEBALL PITCHER. He is not hired for his thoughts or words and he is not even in a position to hire or fire anyone. There is no evidence that his ability to win games or put fans in the seats has been remotely damaged by his comments (at least the Braves don't seem to think so). I also believe that since it is Major League Baseball and not the Atlanta Braves who are doling out the punishment that this smacks more of a "government" action than of that of an employer (especially with baseball's notorious anti-trust exemption).

The Player's Union says that it will likely appeal the ruling on Rocker and it should. While this is most certainly NOT a first amendment issue, I do believe that this case presents an important free speech issue that could go a long way in determining just how far the noose of political correctness has tightened around the neck of our already suffocating freedoms. Barring a sudden reversal, it now seems that the rope is already far tighter than even the most pessimistic of observers had previously realized.

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