VOICES AND ECHOES
JANUARY 14, 2000 • HOUSTON VOICE
Let Rocker exercise his freedom of speech
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The critical response to the verbal insults
hurled by relief pitcher John Rocker at gays,
people with AIDS, ethnic minorities and foreigners has mostly insisted that the Atlanta
Braves and Major League Baseball muzzle the
Until this week, the critics have gotten
In the weeks following the publication
last month of Rocker's angry diatribe
against New Yorkers, including "queers
with AIDS" and those speaking a foreign
language, the opinionated relief ace has
been uncharacteristically quiet.
Within hours after news broke about his
colorful Sports Illustrated interview! in which
he also called a minority teammate he thinks
is overweight "a fat monkey," Rocker issued a
brief written statement apologizing for his
remarks, rationalizing them awav as the product of an emotional athlete who feeds off
That public statement, in which Rocker
admitted having "evidenced strong competitive feelings," had more the ring of a public
relations machine in full retreat than a Macon
good ole boy.
last week, Braves ['resident Stan Kasten
announced that Rocker had personally elaborated on that public apology behind closed
doors, in a Dec. 29 meeting where the 25-year-
old surely knew his job was on the line.
"What we have here is a player who has
expressed remorse. Under those circumstances, 1 am not going to abandon a player or
an employee or a friend," Kasten said.
The Braves organization, which has thus far
shown all the signs of circling the wagons
around its talented young prospect, asks too
much of its fans and the city to expect that we
trust a stiff public apology of doubtful authenticity and a private apology given with the
pitcher's livelihood on the line.
Then, this week, Rocker finally spoke up, in
his own words, in an interview broadcast by
ESPN. He did, indeed, express remorse, but it
sounded more along the lines ot, "I'm sorry those
New York fans treated me so horribly, inciting
me to say things that made me look like a jerk."
Not only was Rocker not particularly contrite, he failed to take full responsibility for his
remarks, blaming the Si. reporter for mi
senting his views, though he didn't challenge
the accuracy of the tape-recorded interview.
Rocker also failed to address all the groups
smeared by his screed, especially those
"queers" and people with AIDS. Peter
Gammon, the ESPN interviewer, couldn't even
bring himself to repeat Rocker's slur, summarizing the insult as "the thing about AIDS."
Before we can put this controversy behind
us, we need to hear Rocker recant—or
defend—his real views on homosexuality and
AIDS, since the S.l interview apparently
Unleashing Rocker's big mouth would also
please his many conservative fans, who have
been quick to defend his "First Amendment
right" to speak his mind.
A quick civics history lesson would remind
these patriotic defenders that the First
Amendment right of free speech, like all constitutional rights, protects us from punishment
by the government, not private employers like
the Atlanta Braves or Major League Baseball.
The "free speech" battle cry is as hypocritical as it is ^historical, coming from the same
conservatives who are the first to attack gay
rights protections in the workplace by championing an employer's basic right to hire and fire
employees for whatever reason they choose.
I here's an exception, apparently, when the
employee is trashing the ethnicity and national heritage ot his teammates, damaging the
reputation of his employer, and tarring the
reputation ol a cherished American sport.
If Rocker is to redeem himself with the Braves,
their fans, and tiie city of Atlanta, and baseball
supporters generally, we need to hear more.
Let's hear Rwker, unplugged, wax eloquent
about his true feelings on homosexuality and
the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Then maybe we can
all judge whether his apology is genuine.
GAY & LESBIAN
I CHAMBER Of COMMERCE
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Military leaders have already failed the 'litmus test'
Al (lore could be excused for feeling a little deja vu last week when he was blasted
from all sides for falling victim to a clever
debate question about whether he'd adopt
a "litmus test" demanding that his high-
level military appointees agree with his
opposition to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
It was almost exactly seven years ago that
the Clinton-Gore administration saw its
post-inauguration honeymoon evaporate
when the president announced his plan to
follow through on a campaign promise to
end the ban on gays in the military
Last week, many of the same military
leaders who back-sniped from the
Pentagon in 1993 were talking to the New
York Times from Ihe comfortable perch of
retirement, blasting Gore for allegedly
introducing a new qualification lor office in
his proposed administration.
In fact. Gore's "litmus test" could have
been interpreted much as he "clarified" il
later, as demanding a willingness to enforce
the commander-in-chiefs position on the
issue, putting aside personal misgivings.
That's an important issue in a military
that has abjectly failed to carry out Ihe
spirit or letter of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell,"
which was supposed to have facilitated
service by gays but which has resulted in
dramatically increased discharges.
It's especially telling that these same military leaders (and other critics) have not
taken issue wilh the COP front-runner,
Texas Gov. George Bush, who said in a
debate days later that he would impose a
litmus test, too, only his appointees would
have to support the existing, DADT policy.
The real "litmus lest" for military
appointments and any others, for that
mailer, ought to examine the prejudices
of the applicants, including any hostility
toward gay men and lesbians.
I he DADI policy was enacted as a sacrifice to that prejudice, which is what
actually would undermine "unit cohesion" il gavs served openly. And it is tti.it
prejudice, from the command Io the
troops, thai has made Ihe policy unworkable in practice