Rocker’s suspension is almost as offensive as his speech
By biconews On 15 Feb, 2000 At 05:00 AM | Categorized As Archives | With 0 Comments

By Zach Phillips
Guest Writer

Two weeks ago, Major League Baseball suspended estranged Atlanta Braves reliever John Rocker until May 1, with an additional $20,000 fine, for insensitive remarks he made in a December Sports Illustrated article. This absurd punishment was almost as offensive as the original

Rocker rhetoric.

For one, it portends an ominous future, being the first decision made by newly-appointed baseball tsar Bud Selig. The long-time Milwaukee Brewer owner had been dawdling as a temporary-commissioner-for-life since 1992 until officially being coronated commish in 1998. This January, however, owners revamped the MLB Constitution and chose to place the sovereignty of both leagues beneath that of the commissioner’s office, effectively positioning Selig as the most powerful baseball boss since Kenesaw Mountain Landis in 1921. The Rocker decision is merely the first application of Selig’s new authority. Essentially, he now has the power, through a “best interests” clause in the amended constitution, to do whatever he pleases with the National Pastime, including the suspension of a player for something that had nothing to do with baseball.

(Incidentally, Rocker’s suspension is believed to be the longest punishment against a player for an action not related to drug use since Texas’ Lenny Randle was suspended 30 days in 1977 for punching his manager).

Obviously, Rocker’s comments - he said he’d never play for a New York team because he didn’t want to have to ride a subway train “next to some queer with AIDS” while adding “I’m not a big fan of foreigners … how the hell did they get in this country?” - were reprehensible. That should be visible to a third-grader. But not only were they made in the off-season in a private magazine interview but - take a second to fathom this - they were completely legal. Has good ‘ole Bud forgotten about that pesky First Amendment? The commissioner’s office release said, “Major league baseball takes seriously its role as an American institution;” what icon could be a stronger symbol of America than the idea of “free speech?”

The most discouraging aspect of Selig’s explanation was what it did not mention. By publicly villifying overtly racist comments by Rocker, the commissioner’s office shifted attention away from the area where baseball’s real, more subtle race problem lies: the employment of minorities in executive positions.

“We will not dodge our responsibility,” the press release said. Oh, you won’t? What kind of responsibility is represented by the fact that 30 major league franchises have a total of four black managers? Or the fact that there are no minorities among all baseball owners, general managers and CEOs? Or by the fact that MLB’s front office hiring practices earned an “F” in the most recent “Racial and Gender Report Card” (an annual study by Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society)? But perhaps we should simply disregard these deficiencies and applaud Mr. Selig for his courageous, anti-racism stance. (Courageous indeed: Selig’s move came only after the entire country had berated the Atlanta reliever and declared their overwhelmingly anti-Rocker stance for more than a month).

The controversy won’t be leaving the front pages just yet, as the MLB player’s union has appealed the suspension. Representative Gene Orza said it best: “It is literally unprecedented to impose a penalty on a player for pure speech, offensive though the speech may be. That, coupled with the magnitude of the penalty, just as unprecedented, makes us optimistic about the outcome of the appeal.” Testimony took place last week, and as the Bi-Co went to press, a decision had not yet been handed down. Baseball’s new independent arbitrator Shaym Das would be wise to overturn the unjust punishment, just as the commissioner’s office would be wise to refocus its energies on solving the real race problem in its sport.

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