I can say this dispassionately because I am no fan of baseball or any
other organized sport; Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker has every
right to speak his mind and in any venue he pleases. He can do that
because he lives in the United States of America, where freedom of
speech is recognized as an inherent right, not something given to us by
government or major league baseball. This isn’t — sadly for most
socialist liberals — the People’s Republic of China or, at least,
Having said that, I also understand the right of a company,
corporation or private institution to makes its own rules and
regulations governing its employees — employees who, for all intents
and purposes, represent that institution.
The problem with making your own rules and regulations is that
regardless of what you’d like to do or what you think is appropriate for
your own company, in America you’re not supposed to be able to make
rules and regulations prohibiting employees from enjoying the basic
premises of law — as enumerated in the Constitution. Period.
In Rocker’s case, there is an argument being made on both sides. But
ultimately — if you really love the concept of individualism and
freedom espoused by our founding document — you cannot logically agree
with the punishment he has been given by his employer. The reality is
this man is supposed to be free to make statements he believes without
having to suffer any legal or quasi-legal ramifications for doing so.
Apparently baseball commissioner Bud Selig doesn’t agree. Neither do
scores of other Americans who, I’d bet, would be pretty upset themselves
if they were punished for things they said, either at work or on their
This argument is not about being “conservative” or “liberal” or
“libertarian” — to me, it is all about constitutional principle.
But because we have allowed certain elements of our society to
dictate to us what is and is not acceptable speech, many people have
trouble these days figuring out what they’re “allowed” to say when it
comes to their own opinions or beliefs. Shame on us.
It’s not supposed to be that way. Provided you’re not yelling,
“Fire!” in a crowded theater or threatening or slandering somebody, in
this country speech is supposed to reign supreme. All kinds of
Corporations, which often base company employee policies on federal
laws (because they have to comply with regulations) do not automatically
have the right to make off-the-cuff personnel decisions. In Rocker’s
case, Selig may very well disagree with everything the ballplayer said
about people in New York City, but that doesn’t give him the authority
to level punishment because Rocker chose to use his constitutional
As has been pointed out, Rocker may be under contract with MLB, but
he has never renounced his right to American citizenship or our
principles of freedom. Consider this: If the government drafts Rocker
someday because it needs to send him somewhere to fight for these very
rights, would Selig suspend him if Selig disagrees with the war?
That sounds ridiculous, but think about it: It’s the point we’re at
now when trying to decide whether certain speech — under certain
conditions and when made by certain people — is really okay. Some cases
of what does and does not constitute “acceptable free speech” are simply
packed with hypocrisy. That’s the problem; who decides? The Constitution, ostensibly,
has already decided for us.
This Rocker thing is especially bogus when you consider that his
punishment was motivated purely by leftist elitism and politics.
It’s absurd to punish Rocker for speaking his mind if we’re not going
to demand similar treatment for guys like Ted Turner for his “religion
is for losers” comment. The argument that Turner should escape
punishment because he is an owner — supposedly someone of stature — is
bogus; Marge Schott of the Cincinnati Reds was summarily censured and
driven from the sport because she too made comments that this same
political elite, among others, found offensive.
There is a double standard at work here and that’s why this Rocker
punishment stinks. The standard applied to him is definitely not being
applied universally, especially when punished players and owners make
comments usually attributable to anti-liberal political thought.
Pure speech, or “expression” — as in basketball’s Dennis Rodman and
his ever-changing hair color — is protected speech, under the rules of
the game governing all U.S. citizens. Major league baseball — or
Boeing, or Microsoft, or Dan’s Hardware Store down the street — has no
supranational standing to impose punishments on people for enjoying this
right or any constitutional right for that matter.
What Selig should have done — if he had to do anything at all — was
simply declare his opposition to Rocker’s statements and let it go at
that. If reporters and elitist politicos pressed him on the subject,
Selig could have reminded them that this is still America, and people
here are supposed to be allowed to speak their minds — even if we
disagree with them.
Standing before a crowd of like-minded people and saying what they
all want to hear doesn’t take any guts at all, and it isn’t why our
Founders wrote the First Amendment. Standing before ideological
opposites and speaking your mind — legally, and without concern for
repercussions — is why we have our “freedom of speech” clause.
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