WHAT’S CRAZY? SOLUTION TO THE ROCKER PROBLEM

BASEBALL TOLD John Rocker he needed therapy. So he sat down with ESPN.

This actually makes sense. In a world where a magazine interview is your sin, why shouldn’t your confessional be a TV studio?

ESPN: “You’ve been called a bigot, a racist, a redneck, Timothy McVeigh . . .”

ROCKER: “The redneck …I won’t deny that.”

See! A breakthrough! It would have taken eight weeks on a couch to get that!

Personally, I never believed Rocker needed therapy. An education, perhaps, but not therapy. Let’s face it. If every dope who thinks Asians can’t drive, blacks get preferential treatment, and foreigners should learn to speak English qualifies for a shrink, there’d be a whole lot more shrinks.

ESPN: “If that Sports Illustrated story had been about someone else, what would you have thought?”

ROCKER: “Oh, that he was a complete jerk.”

Amazing. People pay $200 an hour and don’t come close to this kind of honesty.

The sad truth is, every bigoted thing Rocker said in that now infamous Sports Illustrated piece has been said many times before, around water coolers, at local bars, at the Laundromat — and yes, let’s be honest, in pro sports locker rooms, lots of them.

Are you going to send every jock to therapy? Are you going to put every redneck on a couch?

(Actually, many rednecks are already on a couch. They just have a beer and a remote control in their hands.)

The fact is, this ESPN interview was pretty much what you expected, Rocker being contrite, explaining himself, saying his real friends know he’s “not like that.”

And maybe he isn’t. But he said what he said, and he’ll pay a price for it. Which would always have been enough. Baseball was the crazy party when it demanded Rocker undergo psychotherapy. What the sport was saying was, “He must be crazy. We would never have a prejudiced person in our ranks.”

Oh, yeah?

How do you explain Marge Schott?

Are they pleading temporary insanity?

Or for that matter, how do you explain Ted Turner? Turner, the Braves’ owner
— and therefore Rocker’s boss — may be worth more money than Rocker, he may dress in fancier suits, but his business practices include some mighty redneck behavior.

Did you know Turner owns the WCW operation? He pays wrestlers to go on television and hurl the worst kind of verbal trash, demeaning men and women alike. Turner’s company even hired a tag team of “homosexual” wrestlers, who were supposed to behave in typically demeaning homosexual ways, so that the audience — including children — could yell filthy insults at them.

Now, you tell me which does more harm — a dumb, blabbing relief pitcher in a single magazine article, or a paid team of loud-mouthed wrestlers exhorting bigotry to millions every week?

Where is the punishment for Turner?

Where’s his couch?

The fact is, when Bud Selig, the commissioner, insisted that Rocker undergo psychotherapy, he unintentionally offered him an excuse. Instead of having to own up to his bigoted remarks, Rocker could say he was “crazy at the time.”

This is more insulting than the remarks themselves. Because we all know Rocker’s not crazy. If you let his hatred stand on its own, its ugly stench is enough to turn people off. It educates, even as it disgusts.

But give him an out — “Gee, I don’t know what came over me, must be my split personality” — and you give the ugliness an insanity defense.

And Rocker is not insane.

The sad truth is, he’s more typical than you think.

Rocker’s not the only villain here

Another thing. If we’re putting people on a couch, how about the fans in New York? In the same Sports Illustrated article that started this whole mess, Rocker talked about fans in Shea Stadium who yelled things about his mother, called her a “whore,” threw coins, batteries, beer. Are these people not sick?

“I was walking off the field at Shea Stadium (during the playoffs),” Rocker told ESPN, “and some guy spit in my face….

“In Yankee Stadium, I’m getting ready to pitch the World Series …and a guy hits me right in the back with a battery. What if that had hit me in the head?
. . .

“Then I look over and see this reporter and I’m thinking …I’m gonna retaliate a little bit. I tried to inflict some emotional pain in retaliation to the pain that had been inflicted on me, and I admit, I said some things that shouldn’t have been said.”

Wow. “Emotional pain”? That’s pretty insightful. Maybe ESPN should get out of the sports business and into psychiatry.

The point is, this whole thing played out the way all media tempests play out: highly read controversy, followed by highly watched apology. I imagine Rocker isn’t as heinous as the article makes you think, and he’s not as sweet as his ESPN interview suggests.

But you don’t know a man from interviews. You do know this: Hatred and prejudice have been around a long time. Pretending they’re crazy won’t make them go away.

MITCH ALBOM can be reached at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. Listen to Mitch’s radio show, “Albom in the Afternoon,” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM
(760).

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