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December 24, 1999
Racist Remarks Put Pitcher In A Spot
J M Shenoy in New York
Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker had better walk the next time he goes to Shea Stadium. For, an Indian, Pakistani or a Russian cabbie in New York may not want to give him a ride.
And he may not find a seat on the historic, polyglot No 7 subway line that cuts through neighborhoods of Indians, Colombians, Irish, Russians, Chinese, Koreans and Guyanese, Bangladeshis and Kosovars in Queens.
Not after what the 25-year-old Georgia man, one of the most visible employees of Time Warner conglomerate, told Sports Illustrated magazine in an interview.
"The biggest thing I don't like about New York are the foreigners," Rocker said. "You can walk an entire block of Times Square and not hear anybody speaking English," he said.
"Asians and Koreans and Vietnamese and Indians and Russians and Spanish people and everything up there. How the hell did they get in this country?"
Indian American community leaders joined prominent Americans in slamming Rocker's comments as being small-minded and racist, and suggested that media mogul and philanthropist Ted Turner, who owns the Atlanta Braves, should suspend Rocker for a season, if not fire him.
"Despite his apology, harm has been done," said Atlanta resident Subash Razdan, a trustee of the National Federation of Indian Organizations. "His statement is truly full of bigotry and racism."
Razdan pointed out that Atlanta is not a provincial Bible Belt city. "After the Olympics in particular, it has attained international flavor," he said. "It is a city too busy to nurture small minds and hatred." Razdan also said that Atlanta has been attracting a steady stream of Indian families who have been migrating from New York and Chicago.
"As an Asian American I am offended by what he had to say about Indians and other immigrants," Razdan said, particularly referring to Rocker's statement about a ride on No 7 train, often called the international express because it runs through some of the city's most diverse neighborhoods:
"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."
Deepan Singh, who take the train to work every day, said if Rocker had an open mind he would have found "hundreds of success stories on No 7.
"There surely would be a few millionaires on that train," he said. "And I can assure you that they did not make that money by selling drugs.
"But more important than the millionaires are thousands of ordinary people who work very hard, pay their taxes. Some of them have small businesses and generate employment," he said, adding, "And by keeping many of their shops open 24 hours, they have brought stability to many run-down neighborhoods and reduced the crime rate."
Razdan, Singh and many others felt was that Rocker's thoughts were not unique. Many Americans harbored such anti-immigrants thoughts in their hearts, they said.
While Rocker, who comes from a conservative, religious Presbyterian family, said he regretted his comments and asserted that he is not a racist, his team has distanced itself from his remarks.
General manager John Schuerholz said the viewpoints attributed to Rocker "in no way represent those of the Atlanta Braves organization.
''We have not yet had a conversation with John, but we intend to meet with him as soon as possible to review the statements.''
But several community leaders, politicians and sports commentators and columnists have asked that Rocker be disciplined -- or simply sacked.
New York's Mayor Rudolph Giuliani called the remarks "vicious and bigoted.
"Something should be done about this so that Mr Rocker is held accountable," Giuliani said. "I think it's a terrible attitude. It's a problem; the Braves actually have a responsibility to do something about this."
The head of New York's tourism agency suggested the city could do without Rocker. "When you hear foreign languages spoken on New York City streets, it attests to our role in the world, offering a safe haven and open welcome to newcomers," New York Convention & Visitors Bureau spokeswoman Cristyne Lategano said in a statement.
"Rocker says it's depressing. What is depressing are his narrow-minded and racist views. He is certainly one visitor New York City can do without."
"Get rid of him," screamed Mark Bradley,an Atlanta Journal-Constitution sports columnist.
"Don't send him to sensitivity training," Bradley wrote. "Don't enroll him in anger-management class. Don't fine him. Don't even suspend him."
"He has dishonored the organization. He has offended everyone with a functioning mind. He has stamped himself as a buffoon."
In a statement that the Braves released, Rocker said he had "gone way too far in my competitive zeal."
"I have let my emotions get the best of my judgement and have said things which, when read with cold, hard logic, are unacceptable to me and to my country," said Rocker.
"Even though it might appear otherwise from what I've said, I am not a racist. I should not have said what I did because it is not what I believe in my heart.
"I am contrite," he continued, adding that his personality and view of life were much more complex than "the simplistic, judgmental statements" gave him credit for.
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