John Rocker, Donald Sterling, and Enjoying Villainization

As a child, I was dragged to dozens of Marlins games. Even though that wasn’t quite enough to get Child Protective Services called on my family, it was definitely a slog. There are only so many times you can watch Preston Wilson strike out or a crowd of 2000 people get inordinately excited to watch Cliff Floyd bat. It was rarely something I ever wanted to do. The team sucked. That is, until one day the Braves came to town and my dad and uncle decided to get seats directly above the visitors’ bullpen. They usually preferred outfield box seats, but they weren’t really there to watch the game as much as they were there to see America’s most hated man: John Rocker. After a series of racist, PUBLIC, comments that saw him call a black teammate a “fat monkey,” among a ton of other deplorable things,  Mets fans threw beer bottles at him. Philadelphia fans, usually known for their restraint, pelted him with batteries.  I knew about this only in glimpses from the nightly news, but I was about to be exposed to some of the finest (if occasionally Rated R) heckling I’ve seen to this day.

I think society secretly likes for John Rockers to sprout up. And Marge Schotts and Donald Sterlings, who say things so racially insensitive in public arenas that everyone is forced to agree. Not only does everyone agree, these controversies give people safe targets to unfurl jokes at for a time. Had it existed, Twitter would have exploded in response to John Rocker. I would have contributed. It is rare for everyone you know to agree on something so wholeheartedly that nobody will feel bad for the person in the crosshairs. We take great zeal in these chances to unleash our unfiltered vitriol. This phenomenon is unique to sports, where the very person you hate that month could be contractually obligated to come to town and bear witness to your insults. Michael Richards could just go “find himself” in Asia after his racist tirade, after all. John Rocker had to be in the bullpen that day against the Marlins, and every other day against every other team, and that’s a fate that Donald Sterling was mercifully released from by Adam Silver.