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Jewish World Review Jan. 18, 2000/ 11 Shevat, 5760

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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Off the Rocker Rorschach Test -- JOHN ROCKER HAS JOINED Jimmy the Greek et al. in the ranks of verbose sports persona non grata.

Expectations from sports figures should not run high. The last major league sports figure to make a meaningful contribution to the national dialogue was Joe DiMaggio. He said his piece about Mr. Coffee then kept his mouth shut.

Because I was once responsible for determining the academic eligibility of college athletes, I know the vast majority have little hope for a college degree, and so they move along to the pros or sales positions in GM car lots.

I am thus able to ignore both the content and propriety of professional athletes' interviews. Should the NCAA continue its drive for minimizing academic qualifications, the charming qualities of illiteracy and lack of social grace of professional athletes will increase, along with their babblings.

There are so many lessons from the Rocker soliloquys and resultant public outcry. One is adulation above ability. Mr. Rocker is a 25-year-old redneck with a fast ball. Let him opine on sore arms, Copenhagen and even Wheaties, but don't elevate him to social commentator. Wealth and fame do not go hand-in-hand with insight and intelligence. Once Sharon Stone has proposed that parents distribute condoms at home to their children (she recommends a 200-count supply so as to be non-judgmental), the quality of social debate is bound to dip. Those in today's bully pulpit have neither the life experience nor the credentials for the topics interviewers allow them to explore. Their egos stage coup d' etats on their brains. Status does not always bring wisdom.

When the rich and famous opine beyond their crafts and rises to glory, ignore them. In fact, there should be some sort of Pavlovian training so that when the designer-clad start mouthing off, a pain-producing penalty such as reduced travel digs occurs. Punishment could be flying coach with subsequent reductions for repeated outbursts beyond expertise. Were this procedure followed, Ms. Rosie O'Donnell would be leaving the driving to Greyhound.

The talent-challenged Ms. O'Donnell brings to mind the inconsistency of the Rocker hoopla. Mr. Spike Lee suggested re: Charlton Heston "Shoot him with a .44-caliber Bulldog." Mr. Alec Baldwin touted lynching for Henry Hyde.

Mr. James Carville called Rudy Giuliani a "thug." Ted Turner's response to Pope John Paul II's opposition to contraceptives, "Ever see a Polish mine detector?", done with a tapping of his foot. No one relegated these famous folks to the couch and psychiatric treatment as a remedy for their unfiltered and harsh remarks.

The writers at Saturday Night Live were but a few who handled the Rocker remarks properly -- with humor, not historical significance. In response to Mr. Rocker's statement that riding the 7 train to Shea Stadium involved "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," the Colin Quinn commentary was, "I don't like the guy either, but he has been riding the 7 train." It was a historic moment: The show actually got laughs.

No one has suggested that the audience is insensitively insane, but Mr. Rocker must undergo therapy to keep his position tossing 95-mile-per-hour pitches. Therapy for speaking one's mind? That kind of a Rorschach test is a threat to the First Amendment. It is even more so because the reaction and remedy are inconsistent across political lines. How do you condemn Rocker's outbursts when you have applauded Spike, Sharon, Alec and Ted?

The Rocker files also make obvious the glaring and growing lack of priorities and proportionality. We excused a serial adulterer in the White House under the guise of "private life" and chose to punish only Linda Tripp for blowing the whistle. Professional sports has hardly raised an eyebrow when it comes to criminal conduct by players. Latrell Sprewell and the NBA march onward despite Latrell's "I Saw What You Did Last Summer" incident with his coach's neck.

Phoenix Diamondbacks relief pitcher Bobby Chouinard was charged last week with holding a gun to his wife's head. Mrs. Chouinard revealed that her hubby has broken her ribs in the past. No one has mentioned the couch for Chouinard nor is baseball worried about its image with regard to wife beating. Yet, the spokesman for Major League Baseball, Richard Levin, said, "The remarks made by Rocker were pretty reprehensible. It's not something we can overlook. Something has to be done."

Actually, you can overlook the ill-conceived phraseology of Mr. Rocker. He's a jock with the grace of a javelina and the wit of, well, a jock.

Pretty reprehensible? Adultery is reprehensible. Wife-beating is reprehensible. Choking is reprehensible. Mr. Rocker is obnoxious. The psychiatrist's couch is for the mentally ill, not insensitive boobs.

The world has its way of taking care of such without curtailing rights -- it no longer listens, it no longer pays, it ignores until the boob attains the wisdom of the mental edit. Indeed, Mr. Rocker's subsequent interviews indicate that he "gets it."

He's not off his rocker, but those clamoring for his head and its psychoanalysis are.

JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.


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© 2000, Marianne M. Jennings