Gays Bear Responsibility to Respond When John Rocker or Others Malign Us
Originally Published in The Dallas Voice
The real issue concerning John Rocker’s recent run-in with gays at Breadwinners Restaurant in Dallas has more to do with the Texas Rangers management’s reaction than with Rocker’s alleged behavior. Rocker is a known bigot who has repeatedly put his foot in his mouth by insulting gays, first in Atlanta, then in Cleveland and most recently in Dallas.
The U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment gives Rocker the right to be a jackass. The Constitution doesn’t protect Rocker from being held accountable for such behavior.
The dismissal of Rocker’s comments by John Hart, manager of the Texas Rangers is even more offensive than Rocker’s behavior. Reuters reported, “‘Of course, we do not condone name-calling,’ Hart said. ‘Our general advice to players is to leave a hostile public situation. And that’s what he did. It is my opinion that this is a personal issue between John and the people in the restaurant.’”
Comments made by a public figure always reflect both on the celebrity and the organization with whom they are affiliated. When a private citizen is involved in an incident away from his place of employment, his or her private life is private. However, celebrities, sports figures and politicians are never really private citizens. Along with the benefits of fame that include notoriety, a public platform when desired and often wealth, comes the cost of their loss of privacy.
Advertising spokespersons often sign morality clauses as part of their contracts to protect a corporation’s alignment of their brand with the personality. Corporations purchase insurance both on a spokesperson’s life and to cover instances where a spokesperson might get involved in controversy.
An example might be that perky guy who hawks Dell Computers on TV. You know the one who gloats, “You’re getting a Dell!” Had he made statements like those allegedly made by Rocker, the cutie would have been history.
The Rangers knew what they were buying into when signing Rocker. However, his celebrity, potential impact on game attendance, media ratings and team profitability were more important than Rocker’s offensive behavior. The Rangers should have investigated Rocker’s alleged comments and taken punitive action had they found Rocker’s accusers to be truthful.
Gays also bear responsibility as to how this situation was handled. Too often we sit back and wait for organizations such as the HRC, GLAAD or PFLAG to handle incidents such as Rocker’s comments.
The GLBT community has tremendous influence if we harness it in a way that flexes our power. The infamous Dr. Laura lost her television show because our voices were heard. Certainly GLAAD and other national organizations did their part. However, the fury expressed through StopDrLaura.com and local groups nationwide made the point that we weren’t going to sit back and take it.
Corporations, sports teams and other organizations don’t want to be surrounded by controversy. That’s why many advertisers abandoned their sponsorship of Laura Schlessinger. Once made aware of her comments, the opinions behind them and the anger Schlessinger’s comments caused within the GLBT community, sponsors quickly fled Schlessinger like rats deserting a sinking ship (though in Schlessinger’s case, I chose to think of it more as ships deserting a sinking rat).
Companies lead politicians in extending civil rights protection. A higher percentage of Fortune 1,000 companies have non-discrimination clauses for employees than do states have employment non-discrimination laws. Corporations adopted these policies not out of corporate goodness but because employees and others made sexual orientation an important issue.
Sports organizations aren’t adopting similar positions. Professional athletes aren’t coming out even though there are professional gay football, baseball, basketball and soccer players. Gay athletes are fearful for their safety and the loss of future earnings. When John Rocker makes anti-gay statements and both the Texas Rangers management downplay his comments and gays sit back and do nothing, we do ourselves great disservice. Is Rocker on par with Dr. Laura? Of course not. Schlessinger was given a TV talk show. Rocker is at the end of his career as a professional athlete.
Still each of us could have sent e-mails, made phone calls or written letters and we could have encouraged our friends and family to do the same. Such actions would have taken a few minutes, no big deal.
When a corporation, sports team, politician or other organization receives complaints they know there were many other individuals who agreed but who didn’t take time to express their opinion. It is through the activism, no matter how small, by the GLBT community that change occurs.
When Exxon acquired Mobil, they did away with Mobil’s non-discrimination clause and domestic partnership benefits. The Human Rights Campaign has worked diligently to get Exxon/Mobil to reinstate these policies. Each year the percentage of shareholders voting to support us has grown. We shouldn’t patronize Exxon/Mobil stations, but many of us do. We have a tremendous amount of power to vote with our wallets yet far too few of us do so.
As we learn about issues impacting our community we reward companies and organizations that support us by patronizing them. It’s not coincidental that upwards of 30% of Subarus are purchased by gays.
Likewise, when a corporation, sports figure or politician besmirches us, we should voice our opinions and encourage our friends and family to do so too. We should vote with our wallets while making phone calls, writing letters and sending e-mails. We shouldn’t wait for others to do so for us.
Contact Information for the Texas Rangers – Address: John Hart, General Manager, Texas Rangers, 1000 Ballpark Way #400, Arlington, TX 76011 – Phone: Metro 817.273.5222 – e-mail:frontoffice at rangers dot mlb dot com – website: www.texasrangers.com (you can provide feedback by clicking on “Contact Us” at the bottom of the Homepage).
John R. Selig is a marketing professional in the advertising industry and is a gay activist, freelance writer and photojournalist living in Dallas, Texas. Selig was a member of the StopDrLaura.com National Steering Committee and received the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance (DGLA) President’s Award in 2001.