“How can you defend an oaf like John Rocker?” a friend
asked me recently. “I don’t disagree with you, but when
you take up his cause you’re just begging to be called a racist
Well, being smeared as a “racist” is just part of the
game these days. Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s evisceration
of libel law in the name of the First Amendment, you can’t do
much about it. But the worst thing you can do is to accept the role
of defendant and let yourself be intimidated by the ethos of laissez-faire
Rocker, the Atlanta Braves’ star relief pitcher, has now been
fined and suspended for the early part of the coming season by Major
League Baseball’s commissioner, Bud Selig. The sentence also
includes “sensitivity training,” on top of the psychological
examination Rocker has already submitted to. Selig said that Rocker’s
unflattering remarks about New York “offended practically every
element of society and brought dishonor to himself, the Atlanta Braves,
and Major League Baseball.”
Personally, I disliked Rocker from the first time I saw him pitch.
He’s an abrasive man, like a lot of athletes nowadays. But that
doesn’t justify New York’s fans in spitting on him, pouring
beer on him, and throwing batteries at him. Neither do his opinions
about New York justify Selig in punishing him and, particularly, humiliating
him as a thought-criminal in need of a Soviet-style “cure.”
If Rocker had broken some well-defined rule, it would be one thing.
But Major League Baseball, as far as I know, has no speech code. Selig
himself has brought dishonor on the sport by trying, in a totally arbitrary
manner, to impose taboos on the expression of opinion — taboos
that didn’t apply to Ted Turner’s crude jokes about Catholics,
the Pope, and Poles. (Turner, the Braves’ owner, has apologized;
but so has Rocker, unavailingly.)
Rocker has been roundly condemned as a “racist” even though
he never mentioned race. But liberal invective is routinely accepted
as free speech.
The episode throws a lot of light on the prevailing thought-crime
code. Thought-crimes differ from ordinary crimes in several respects.
First, they aren’t defined. Nobody knows exactly what “racism” is;
it can mean anything the accuser wants it to mean. And it rarely refers
to overt acts; usually it refers to the alleged thoughts or attitudes
of the accused.
Second, nothing has to be proved — and since the word has no
clear definition, nothing can be proved. So the accuser bears no burden
of proof, as he would in cases of ordinary crimes. The accused is presumed
guilty as long as the accusation is sufficiently strident. And, given
the vagueness of the charge, he can’t prove he isn’t racist.
Third, and most important, nobody ever has to pay a price for making
a false or reckless accusation. Nobody is ruined or disgraced for making
loose charges of “racism.” Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton
continue to thrive after making far more wild charges than Joe McCarthy.
You don’t have to worry about being falsely accused of murder,
because everyone knows what murder is, there are clear procedures for
testing the charge, and anyone who makes a false accusation against
you can be sued or even jailed. But everyone has to worry about being
accused of “racism,” because these safeguards don’t
exist when that poisonous charge is leveled.
If you really think racism is a serious matter, you want the word
to mean something definite and you want to make sure that innocent
people are safe from false charges of it. Otherwise, the word merely
becomes a weapon that can be picked up and wielded by opportunists
and tyrants to create a climate of intimidation.
Which course describes the methods of those who profess to oppose
racism in America today? The answer is obvious. Charges of racism are
made so promiscuously that everyone has to walk on eggs to avoid incurring
them. And no accuser has to worry about any penalty for damaging an
innocent man’s good name.
Such a situation can only breed such thought-police as Jackson and
Sharpton, paving the way for tyranny. It may not frighten the Ku Klux
Klan, but other people will learn to speak guardedly in multicultural
Copyright © 2011 by the Fitzgerald
Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved. This column was published originally
by Griffin Internet Syndicate on February 3, 2000.
Robert Royal's excellent book, The Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth
Century: a Comprehensive World History (Crossroad Publishing,
2000, 429 pages) can be purchased at Alibris.
Joe Sobran was an author and a syndicated columnist. See bio
and archives of some of his columns.
Watch Sobran's last TV appearance on YouTube.
Learn how to get a tape of his last speech
during the FGF Tribute to Joe Sobran in December 2009.
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