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Wednesday, December 22
Updated: December 23, 6:45 PM ET
 
Rocker apologizes, says he's not racist

Associated Press

ATLANTA -- John Rocker apologized for his comments against foreigners and gays, but that didn't stop the tide of criticism building against him from fans, teammates and even Hank Aaron.

John Rocker
John Rocker has not been formally punished for his controversial comments.
"Even though it might appear otherwise from what I've said, I am not a racist," the fiery Braves reliever said Wednesday in a statement. "I should not have said what I did because it is not what I believe in my heart."

Rocker told Sports Illustrated he would retire before ever playing for a New York team and then added:

"Imagine having to take the (No.) 7 train to (Shea Stadium) looking like you're (in) Beirut next to some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It's depressing.

"The biggest thing I don't like about New York are the foreigners," the 25-year-old Georgia native said. "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 then retracted those remarks.

"I want everybody to understand that my emotions fuel my competitive desire," Rocker said. "They are a source of energy for me. However, I have let my emotions get the best of my judgment."

Commissioner Bud Selig called Rocker's remarks "inappropriate and offensive" and said they are being reviewed. "We will take appropriate action," Selig said.

On Thursday, about 15 protesters gathered at Turner Field to urge the team to fire Rocker. Atlanta City Councilman Derrick Boazman said he would introduce a resolution condemning Rocker next month.

Aaron, the Braves' Hall of Famer, said he was "very sick and disgusted about the whole situation" and questioned how Rocker could continue in baseball.

"I have no place in my heart for people who feel that way," Aaron told Chicago syndicated radio sports talk host Jay Mariotti on Thursday.

Braves general manager John Schuerholz spoke with Rocker for 10 minutes Wednesday and said he planned to meet with him after the holidays "to discuss what actions the organization will take."

"The viewpoints attributed to John Rocker in no way reflect the views of the Atlanta Braves organization," Schuerholz said. "He works for us, but in no way do the comments, attitude and feelings represent those of the Atlanta Braves."

Rocker's teammate, Brian Jordan, told Atlanta's WQXI-AM: "You can't respect a guy that makes comments like that publicly."

Pitching coach Leo Mazzone also took offense.

"Baseball's a very humbling game. The first thing I think about is after I hear about this, he's going to go out and blow himself out," Mazzone said.

"One of his teammates might punch him out. Something's going to go wrong now with his career. And you watch it, it'll end up going straight down the tubes."

Schuerholz said he did not think Rocker's remarks would be disruptive to the team. He said Rocker told him that "he has as many good friends on this team that are African-American or Latin as he has that are Caucasian."

The comments weren't playing well with other Atlantans.

"His racist opinions are just, to me, a representation of a very ignorant and uneducated person," said Sara Gonzalez, president of Atlanta Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Terri Watson, shopping at the Braves Clubhouse store Wednesday, described herself as a Rocker fan -- or maybe a former one.

"I sure hope I don't get a Rocker jersey for Christmas now. And I asked for one," she said. "If he can't come up with a good explanation for why he's a bigot and a racist, he needs to change his views and do some soul-searching."

Rocker has been the focus of hatred from New York Mets fans since September, when he said he enjoyed beating the team. During the playoffs, he said Mets fans insulted his mother and threw batteries at him.

Tony Braswell, executive director of AID Atlanta, said he attended the playoff game in New York and was shocked by the rude behavior of Mets fans. But he was even more offended by Rocker's comments.

"Welcome to the real world, Mr. Rocker," he said. "The world is made up of people from India and Korea and Vietnam and Spain and Russia and people with purple hair and queers living with AIDS. There are men, women and children of all walks of life living with AIDS."

Rocker said he fully intends "to learn from this experience."

"Everyone makes mistakes," he said, "and I hope everyone can put this aside and begin with a fresh start in the 2000 season."





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