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January 12, 2000
Give Rocker A Gandhian Lesson: Andrew Young
Arthur J Pais
While many Indian Americans, African Americans, and liberal Americans continue to demand suspension of John Rocker from Atlanta Braves for his racist remarks, Andrew Young, the former mayor of Atlanta, and one of Martin Luther King Jr's lieutenants in the civil rights movement, has a bold suggestion. The Braves have asked Rocker, who has said he is contrite for his remarks, to seek psychological testing. But Young has other ideas that could redeem Rocker.
'As we approach the Martin Luther King holiday, it's appropriate that we allow his life and teaching to affect our present-day conflicts,' Young wrote in Atlanta Constitution and Journal.
'Following lessons he learned from Mohandas Gandhi, King taught his closest associates, including me, to always try to give your adversary a "face-saving" way to become a partner in ending segregation and racism. Rocker needs Atlanta to hand that kind of face-saving way out to him.'
One of the most visible employees of the Time Warner conglomerate, Rocker recently told Sports Illustrated magazine that 'the biggest thing I don't like about New York are the foreigners.
'You can walk an entire bloc in Times Square and not hear anybody speaking English. 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?'
Young suggests The 100 Percent Wrong Club, Atlanta's oldest black sports club, should honor Rocker 'for bringing his reactionary attitudes into the open' where they can be addressed in the Atlanta style -- with humor, truth and reconciliation. 'After all, similar insecurities and fears are just beneath the surface in many of us.'
Recalling his own days as ambassador to the United Nations in the late 1970s and remembering how he was provoked into a series of headlines (especially about Palestinians) that created controversies, Young asks readers to think of Rocker, 25, who is confronted by New York sports fans.
'And there was not the pressure of 60,000 sports fans shouting at me,' Young notes. 'I know what it's like to be taunted, so it's not hard for me to walk a mile in John's shoes.'
No one can defend the statements Rocker made to Sports Illustrated, Young said, but the young man's rage could be understood in the context of a high-strung athlete who ended in the agony of defeat in the World Series.
While criticizing Rocker, how many people make time to address their own prejudices, Young wondered, as he reviewed his own prejudices and how hard he had to fight them.
'We're all learning to live together with new understanding for a new millennium,' he said.
Rocker could visit the Martin Luther King Center in Atlanta and learn about creative non-violence, Young suggested. The Center has a bust of the Mahatma, donated by the Indian community. There is also literature about the Mahatma and his ideals.
'Rocker is still young enough to change, young enough to be redeemed, young enough to learn those lessons with help from his team mates and the rest of the Atlanta community,' Young said. 'When he absorbs those lessons, he can throw 100 mile-per-hour strikes with a smile, and we'll all win.'
Young's radical suggestions brought mixed results from many Indian Americans.
"It is worth trying," said Dev Shah, a businessman. "Let us see if a visit and studying the works of Gandhi and King will teach this man some lessons."
Let Rocker be suspended for a year, said several other Indians. "He will have plenty of time then to visit the King Center and reflect on life and its deep meaning," said Joe Thomas, a student.
"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 believes there should be some formal punishment instead of a slap on the wrist.
He 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, adding that there should have been be a serious gesture of punishment.
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