John Rocker chose a unique way to prove that he's not racist: He launched his own "Speak English" campaign.
The former Atlanta Braves pitcher -- who was suspended from baseball for making homophobic, xenophobic and racist comments -- says he wants the world to know he's actually a pretty nice guy. He's written a book called "Scars and Strikes," which outlines his decade-long fight to reverse a damning portrayal of him written by Sports Illustrated reporter Jeff Pearlman in 1999. Rocker's new book dives back into controversial race politics, but this time he's advocating an aggressive assimilation campaign. (He sells "SPEAK ENGLISH" shirts on his website to promote the campaign.)
In the 1999 Sports Illustrated piece, Pearlman quoted Rocker's thoughts on immigrants.
"The biggest thing I don’t like about New York are the foreigners," Rocker said in the interview. "You can walk an entire block 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?"
Rocker also described why he would never live in New York.
"Imagine having to take the [Number] 7 train to the ballpark, looking like you’re [riding through] Beirut next to some kid with purple hair next to some queer with AIDS right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids," he said to Sports Illustrated. "It’s depressing."
The former pitcher likens the 1999 piece to an assassination. He lost his job, he lost his friends and he lost a reputation he worked hard to build for himself, he says.
"Technically, I’m still breathing and the soulless shell that is my body continues to walk around upright appearing to be intact," Rocker writes in his new book. "Make no mistake about it, however, everything inside of me that day, everything I worked a lifetime to become, who I was at the core of my being which took more than a decade to create was laid to waste in one fell blow all for the sake of selling a few fucking magazines."
He says the portrayal of him as a xenophobic, racist, New York City-hater is far from the truth. Some of his best friends are foreigners, he says. He's dated African American model Alicia Marie for many years. He wears a NYPD hat sometimes. But Rocker hasn't quite stopped making those controversial statements.
In a 2006 interview with Deadspin, Rocker gave a less-than-romantic description of how he met his girlfriend. "I just looked down her shirt, saw what I needed to see and moved on. I took a leap of faith, because she had a long coat on, and she could have had big birthin' hips or something." Three years later, Rocker reportedly called radio host Steve Shapiro a "jew faggot," and referred to a gay couple as "fruitcakes" while eating breakfast at a Dallas bakery.
Rocker insists these reports are the media's distortions of who he really is. His focus is now on helping immigrants by encouraging them to assimilate, he says. Learning English, he argues, is the key to economic opportunity in the United States.
"If you really want to achieve and grasp all the opportunities that America has, assimilation is going to be required. Speaking English is going to be required. And I don't think that can be viewed as racist. It's almost encouragement, it's almost advice, I guess," Rocker told The Huffington Post.
He also said that it's annoying for him when immigrants don't speak English.
"I can remember I was in Miami a year ago or so, and I was trying to order coffee at Starbucks. And the lady, literally, we could not interact," Rocker told HuffPost. "And my Spanish isn’t bad -- I could have ordered my coffee in Spanish. And I wasn’t going to do it out of pure spite and stubbornness, I guess. And she gave me this kind of disgusted look. She sighed really big, rolled her eyes, and walked to the back to get someone to take my order. And it was like I’m a foreigner in my own country here."
When asked if perhaps sending journalists an email entitled "John Rocker wants you to speak English" isn't the best way to fix his reputation, Rocker blamed the media industry, again. He says his PR reps framed his book with a polarizing message in order to catch the media's attention. And perhaps it worked.
"In my mind, and don't take this personally, media is a business. Their job is to create interest and create buzz, to drive ratings," Rocker said.
"The sexy story for the media is John Rocker, the bigot. That’s the one they print, they portray. It drives ratings, it sells newspapers. And I’ve had enough of it." Rocker said. "So I’ve decided to sit down and deliver the story straight from the horse’s --- or some might say the jackass' -- mouth."