We began well in America. No Inquisition here. No kings, no nobles. No dominant church here. Heresy has lost its terror.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
If there is freedom [of speech], folly will die of its own poison, and the wisdom will survive. That is the history of the race.
—William Allen White, from a July 27, 1922, Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial, in the Emporia Gazette, Kansas
Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker’s bigoted blast at us multicultural natives of New York has gone around the world, leading baseball commissioner Bud Selig to command that he undergo psychological testing and the Atlanta City Council to demand that he be fired from the Braves. The Atlanta branch of the NAACP agrees.
No one, to my knowledge, has yet insisted that Rocker be tarred and feathered and then drawn and quartered on pay TV.
However, there was more to the Sports Illustrated interview than the parts that led to his becoming a pariah. But the full details of New York fans’ abuse of Rocker have been largely neglected by the media. An exception was Rocker’s ESPN interview, which covered all of Rocker’s complaints and was picked up by the January 13 New York Post—but not by most of the rest of the media.
Concerning Mets fans, Rocker told Sports Illustrated reporter Jeff Pearlman: “Nowhere else in the country do people spit at you, throw bottles at you, throw batteries at you, and say, ‘I did your mother last night—she’s a whore.’ ”
He also told Pearlman about “three cold nights at Shea, when bottles whizzed past his head, beer was dumped on his girlfriend, and 2007 sexual positions involving him and a sheep were suggested.”
Then, during the third game of the National League Championship series last year, as Rocker was called to the mound to put out a Mets rally, the New York fans’ serenade built to a crescendo. As Pearlman reported:
“A smattering of boos. Louder. Louder. Then, on the fourth or fifth stride of Rocker’s dash toward the mound, it started: ‘Asshole! Asshole! Asshole!’ 55,911 fans—black, white, brown, whatever—united by a common bond. Hatred of John Rocker.”
It has not been demanded that any of these feisty fans be herded into psychological counseling before being allowed back into Shea Stadium. We are all Americans, and so we believe in free speech, right?
The vilest anti-Semitic and homophobic language I have ever heard—and that covers a lot of years on the streets and reporting on homegrown fascists—is regularly uttered by Khalid Muhammad. But not even Rudolph Giuliani has urged that a court order send this world-class bigot to a psychologist.
Muhammad has advocated violence, even terminal violence, against those he hates. So has Clinton defender Alec Baldwin, who—when his idol was being impeached—urged on television that Henry Hyde, leader of the House impeachment managers, be killed along with his children.
As with Muhammad’s inflammatory language, there was no movement to corral Baldwin and take him to a psychologist. I know Henry Hyde, and he is not easily intimidated, but he was very worried about his family for a time.
But consider the fierce mass insistence that John Rocker be punished, suspended from the all-American game of baseball, and otherwise be made to pay unremittingly for these words:
“Imagine having to take the 7 train to the ballpark, looking like you’re [riding through] Beirut next to some kid with purple hair next to some queer with AIDS right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It’s depressing.
“The biggest thing I don’t like about New York are the foreigners. You can walk an entire block in Times Square and not hear anybody speaking English. Asians and Koreans and Vietnamese and Indians and Russians and Spanish people. . . . How the hell did they get in this country?”
Oh, this is a great town for diversity—but not exactly for diversity of ideas. On October 23 last year, more than 6000 furious New Yorkers came to Foley Square—where the courthouses of justice are—to roar at 18 silent Ku Klux Klan members exercising their First Amendment right of assembly.
Some of the indignant New Yorkers brought their kids along so they could see actual fascist bigots in the flesh.
The kids couldn’t hear what the 18 had to say because the police commissioner and then the courts had denied them sound equipment. Their faces were also naked to the crowd because they were forbidden to hide in their hoods. Even Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg refused to let them keep their hoods on—despite an American tradition of anonymous political speech from before the American Revolution.
As members of the crowd sounded and looked as if they were extras in a guillotine scene in a movie on the French Revolution, a young woman among them said simply—pointing to the silent Klan members—”This is America! They have a right to speak!”
Instantly she was engulfed by this mob of antibigots. They spat at her, kicked her, and beat her over the head with American flags. Punched to the ground, she somehow got to her feet and fled into a nearby building.
John Rocker sure has a lot to learn from New Yorkers about our revered First Amendment. Next time he comes to town, some Mets fans or anti-Klanners may see that he’ll wind up with his head on a pike embedded in a schoolhouse door as a lesson to our young.
Advertising disclosure: We may receive compensation for some of the links in our stories. Thank you for supporting the Village Voice and our advertisers.