Even before Dubya had made the invasion official, fellow Texan Roger Clemens threw out the first broken-bat shard of the war-rhetoric season. As the featured speaker at a send-off for two Tampa-based units of the military police early last week, Clemens opined: “This is a time when you want to rally and get behind people. I wonder if all these people protesting, if anybody in that crowd, had anybody in that building, in either one of our twin towers, if they’d really be out there doing that.”
“I can’t believe that Roger Clemens would make that statement,” says Rita Lasar of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, whose brother died in the north tower while aiding a wheelchair-bound co-worker. “I am a patriot, and I support the troops by saying ‘Bring them home.’ They are our treasure, and we should not waste them.”
The Rocket’s Hall-of-Fame talents as a chowderhead notwithstanding, there’s a deeper issue here: Athletes who publicly back the war generally get a free ride from fans and media, compared with the boos and “keep politics out of sports” editorials heaped on college hoopsters like Manhattanville’s Toni Smith and Virginia’s Deidra Chatman, who dared turn away from the flag during the national anthem. (Chatman abandoned her protest after one game; Smith kept it up through the end of the season.)
Then there’s Marco Lokar, the Seton Hall basketball player who was hounded off the team during Gulf War I for declining to wear an American flag patch on his uniform. (Lokar says he offered to don an Italian or UN patch, but was refused.) Now a U.S. history professor at the University of Trieste, Lokar has still not been back to the States in the 12 years since, remembering the death threats—including an envelope with a bullet in it—that chased him out the first time. “I would love to—I have so many friends that I would like to see,” he tells the Voice. “But I didn’t feel comfortable psychologically to come back, after all that’s happened.”
Contrast this with pro-war athletes like Marlin pitchers Braden Looper and Doug Bochtler, who last week demanded that a Dixie Chicks song be pulled from their stadium’s sound system, without attracting public outrage. Note to Jose Mesa: Next time you threaten to kill someone, make sure it’s Saddam Hussein.