John Rocker, or, That Sports Illustrated Profile

Yesterday, John Rocker went on Reddit for one of their Ask Me Anything (“AMA”) segments1. This type of question and answer format is the ideal platform for bringing out the brightest part of the Internet, or the darkest part, depending on what your opinion is on someone asking Rocker for his thoughts on whether Alex Rodriguez should be suspended for being Hispanic2.

To understand Rocker’s story means we need to go back over a decade ago, to the December 23, 1999 issue of Sports Illustrated, when a controversial profile by Jeff Pearlman on he Atlanta Braves closer was published. 

In the piece, Rocker was his usual uncensored self, wondering why Asian women are so bad at driving, how he could go entire blocks in Time Square without hearing any English and in general, saying anything and everything to get under the skin of New York Mets fans, the Braves rival in the NL East at the time. 

The most talked about part of the article came when Pearlman asked Rocker if he could ever picture himself playing in New York, specifically for the Mets, to which the pitcher replied: "Imagine having to take the Number 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 backlash against Rocker’s insensitive comments grew by the day, and he was eventually suspended for spring training and the first 28 games of the following season. In 1999, Rocker posted a 2.49 ERA with 38 saves in 74 appearances. It was, statistically, the best season in his career, and would remain that way as he was out of the game of major league baseball by the age of 28. 

In 2006, while promoting his book "Scars And Strikes", the former major leaguer sat down for a Q&A with Will Leitch at Deadspin

Asked if he had any regrets about the Sports Illustrated article, Rocker took the offensive: If it would have been portrayed in the correct version, no. The way the sucker punch was done, yeah, it was horseshit. Every dark cloud has a sun behind it, though; there’s a lot of things I can do now that I wouldn’t have been able to do had it not been for that article. It’s opened a lot of doors.”

He also attacked Pearlman directly: That’s the thing, though: When people have an agenda, that’s all that matters. Jeff Pearlman is who he is: A liberal Jew from New York. He’s one of their own, who spent a couple of hours with me, pulled things out of context, and you’re trying to create a persona of an individual when you don’t know them.”

Pearlman wrote a response to Rocker’s comments but it wasn’t until 2012 he went into detail on the story behind the story. 

No longer feeling the need to hold back — or perhaps in anger to all the jabs that Rocker had taken at Pearlman3 — the writer shared further details and more damaging quotes from the time he spent with Rocker while putting together the Sports Illustrated piece:

"We were driving around Atlanta—girlfriend in the front seat, me in the back—when Rocker asked whether I’d ever been to Disney World. “I have,” I replied. “You know all those characters who walk around the park—Mickey, Donald, Minnie …” “Sure,” I said. “Well, they’re all faggots,” he said. “They’re all fucking faggots.”

After everything that was already disclosed, calling Disney characters a bunch of faggots seem tame, or simply repeating the point. 

In spite of all this, Rocker’s voice is still being heard. While not as prominent as it might have been at the height of his career, he’s a radio analyst for ESPN and Sporting News and has written for several sites4

Rocker’s views aren’t just controversial in the way many people fault Skip Bayless, they’re offensive, inconsiderate and dangerous because if you’ve even come across Matt Binder’s Public Shaming site, you know that there are people out there who will follow this voice. 

The strangest thing about his whole story is that without the controversy of the Sports Illustrated profile, and without making the public aware of his deranged view on things, Rocker would probably not have the platform afforded to him today to share his opinions.

It’s weird how things work sometimes. 


1 The thing about the Reddit AMA format, as we’ve seen with John Rocker and recently with Peter King, with a certain type of guest, the Q&A session spirals out of control into a situation where the audience can dictate what the conversation will be about, and there’s generally very little that comes out of these sessions worth reading and digesting. So while the format still lends itself to a lot of quality chats, you have to wonder whether similar to a late night talk show interview or a post-game press conference, the format’s reaching a point where it will plateau and not really provide much added value most of the time.  

2 Best (or, worst) exchange from the AMA: this

3 In a 2000 George Magazine interview, Rocker’s dad Jake accused Pearlman of baiting his son into saying such vile comments in the SI piece. The story goes that Pearlman had used the “n-word” at a bunch of African-American saleswomen at a convenience store during his time together with Rocker. Pearlman vehemently denied it, and we all file this under the category of consider who the source of the story is. 

In a column about gun control, he said: “Absolute certainties are a rare thing in this life, but one I think can be collectively agreed upon is the undeniable fact that the Holocaust would have never taken place had the Jewish citizenry of Hitler’s Germany had the right to bear arms and defended themselves with those arms.” Also, Rocker is available via the Thuzio website, where you can book him for a speaking engagement for $2,000. 

photo via Jeff Pearlman

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  1. stevenlebron posted this

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