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Jewish World Review Feb. 4, 2000 / 29 Shevat, 5760

Cal Thomas

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John Rocker goes to (re-education) camp --
IN COMMUNIST SOCIETIES, when people say or write something that is regarded by the authorities as counter-revolutionary, they are sent to re-education camp in order to get their minds straightened out. To facilitate the re-education process, the reluctant camper is often subjected to physical and psychological torture.

In America we have the same thing. We call it sensitivity training.

Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker is being sent to our version of a re-education camp until he recites the words major league baseball wants him to say. Whether he believes them or not is less important than whether he utters them. The gods of political correctness must be appeased. It gives an entirely new meaning to the word "bullpen.''

Rocker has apologized for remarks he made in a magazine interview about gays, minorities, foreigners and New York City. For those remarks he was fined $20,000 and suspended until May 1, possibly hurting his team's chances at winning the pennant. Rocker said it is "appropriate that I should be disciplined for my misguided speech unaccompanied by any conduct on my part,'' but he believes the penalty exceeds the infraction. The baseball players' union filed a grievance to overturn the suspension that will be considered by an independent arbitrator.

Perhaps major league baseball would do its players and fans a service by publishing a list of remarks it considers tolerable and which words will send the offending players to the sensitivity showers. For example, should a player blaspheme, will he be required to do penance to the offended religion? Players regularly question the visual acuity of umpires. If the blind are offended, would players be forced to walk around with blindfolds so they might be sensitized to how it feels to be visionless?

Our senses are regularly assaulted by offensive entertainment and political speech. Politicians lie to us. Journalists and show hosts editorialize against Republicans and conservatives. Rarely are there apologies for such affronts. Has any entertainer or politician been forced into sensitivity training to clean up his or her act? Rev. Jesse Jackson was not pressured to take sensitivity training when he called New York City "Hymietown.'' When Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan denounces Jews and whites, no one suggests he be sensitively trained. Were the Rev. Al Sharpton held to the same standard as John Rocker, he would be a permanent sensitivity training camper.

Who will conduct this "training'' and how? Does major league baseball think that Rocker's mind will change about the things he has believed,
or will his prejudices simply be forced underground? Baseball doesn't seem to care, just so the story gets out of the newspapers so baseball can go back to doing what it does best: making money.

This is not an excuse for Rocker's inappropriate behavior, but let's see how long the sensitivity trainers could put up with what Rocker has been subjected to in New York. During last season's playoffs, Mets "fans'' spit in his face, poured beer on him and hurled verbal insults. Yankees "fans'' threw batteries at Rocker, which could have resulted in a career-ending injury. Will anyone force these "fans'' to undergo sensitivity training?

Where are the First Amendment advocates who like to defend free speech? Why aren't they coming to bat for Rocker? Or is the right to free speech granted only to certain people? If Rocker possessed the power to deprive one of his verbal targets of their rights, that might call for stronger action, but the guy simply spoke words. Whatever happened "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me''?

If major league baseball will now regulate speech, and then only certain kinds of speech, it's become a camp of its own: Camp Run-amok.

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