VOICES AND ECHOES
JANUARY 21, 2000 • HOUSTON VOICE
Muzzling Rocker only treats the symptoms
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by CINDY ABEL
John Rocker. His
has reached far beyond baseball fans and
he stays in the newspaper—in sections
other than sports—week after week.
Under different circumstances, it would
be a PR dream. But given his bigotry-
revealing remarks, it's close to becoming a
The Atlanta Braves pitcher from Macon,
(..a., has to be at least a bit surprised.
Certainly this can't be the first time he's
made careless, cutting sentiments. His head
must be swirling, since this isn't how it usually happens for him.
After all, he's tall, well-built, boyishly
handsome, athletic and followed by a boatload of fans. Guys love 'em, girls love 'em,
isn't he the picture of America? That's all
the managers have ever cared about, so
what's so different now?
What's different is that he was cutting
and careless in public, revealing the tarnish
that's showing up a bit too often on our
shiny ail-American golden boys.
Doesn't he know his remarks are supposed to be limited to those carefully-crafted messages that emanate from the Braves'
management office, messages designed to
build and reinforce a very specific image
that attracts people ready to spend, spend,
Interview after interview repeated the
theme: "Rocker's got to learn to control
what he says and apologize." Perhaps
many shared his views, but had the manner^ or good-sense to not offend ticket-buyers so openly.
In other words, he can believe and feel
whatever he wants, what matters is what
he says and how it impacts the baseball
That's where the PC police come up
short: Control the outward expression,
work on the symptoms. But what about
what's inside? Is the offensiveness of his
words blinding us to their origin? Is teaching him to merely watch what he says
He should absolutely be reprimanded for
his offensive statements, and the public
outcry was definitely valid. But let's not
Saying "I sounded like a redneck and I'm
sorry" doesn't change much, if anything.
Even if he learns to control his tongue, his
heart remains the same. And therein lies the
limitation of legislation.
As we seek protection through the Hate
Crimes Prevention Act or Employment
Non-Discrimination Act, do we really
believe that their passage would guarantee
Teaching Rocker to control his
work for them, leaving the
tongue only does the Braves' PR
underlying prejudice untouched.
our equality? We know better, don't we?
There are thousands of companies with
policies to protect their employees from
being fired on the basis of sexual orientation, many even offering domestic partner
benefits. And still, gay and lesbian employees stay hidden "just in case." They live
what we all know: If someone wants to discriminate, they will—regardless.
Of course we need inclusive legislation.
The debate ends our invisibility and exposes our neighbors to the truth about us,
removing many of the internal barriers
propped up by myth and stereotype.
We need to be legally included in the system, the code that sets up societal standards, if we are to have a civil society. But
laws are not the great equalizer—just ask
women and people of color. They've been
M OVHW ATHlEB 5HOvU?rlt6iVif W^iiM JSfy
at this for some time now.
Getting in there, speaking up and speaking out, refusing to back down when a
Rocker runs his mouth—those are the
things that nudge us closer to freedom and
Reminding our neighbors and colleagues
that when John Rocker insults "queers with
AIDS" and Andrew Young and Hank
Aaron are silent on the issue, we won't be.
Reminding them that it was you and I,
the folks who live and work beside them
every day, who Rocker stereotyped and
We cannot afford to hide behind the
future promise of protection, waiting in the
shadows "until I know it's safe," co-conspirators in a workplace "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
A federal law won't restore a voice we've
long left silent. It may strengthen the vocal
chords of those already whispering, but
let's get real: Millions of gays aren't going
to spontaneously burst into the "I lallelujah
Chorus" or publicly, proudly proclaim
"Free at last!" There will still be work to be
done, including some inside us.
likewise, laws, in and of themselves,
won't dismantle the bastions of bigotry so
deeply embedded in the hearts of Rocker and
his quietly cheering admirers. Education and
legislation are not either-or propositions, but
critical components of a long-term strategy.
Political correctness and a good public relations team can change inert behavior. But if
we want true freedom, we must accept
ibility tor attaining it.
We must do more than silence symptoms
and tame tongues. We must go to the source
of the problem, touching hearts and changing
minds by living and telling the truth about
Cindy /.. Abel, former executive director of the
Georgia Equality Protect, can be reached ill