John Rocker: Train Wreck Survivor


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I was halfway through writing a post about the difficulty I was having with intellectually reconciling the notion of the ALS ice-bucket challenge as both silly Internet fad and light-hearted fundraiser.

Phew! Even that single sentence summary was bleak.

Then, as I was straining for a light at the end of the tunnel, a familiar train, a train I had very nearly forgotten about, a train that I thought must’ve been lying in a junkyard as a pile of hot, twisted metal these last years, passed by me on its way to what is sure to be yet another massive wreck. And, like in years before, as revolting as the upcoming crash has the possibility of being, it will be almost impossible to turn away from as it unfolds.

Johnny Rocker, a former big league pitcher, is back and in prime time.

For those that aren’t familiar with Mr. Rocker, he is essentially the real-life manifestation of Kenny Powers from the hit HBO comedy "Eastbound and Down." Rocker was a fast hurling phenom at his Georgia high school and was drafted by the Atlanta Braves as a teenager, beginning his 12-year career in baseball brightened dramatically by the spotlight that glowed every time Rocker put his foot inside of his mouth. For a while, Rocker was a good enough pitcher that many fans were able to overlook his antics, but that all changed with the now infamous interview he did with Sports Illustrated in 1999, when we learned a lot about John Rocker and his worldview.

We learned that he 
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hates New York City — mostly because of the foreigners. We learned that he finds riding the subway alongside AIDS victims and young mothers depressing and likened the experience to living in Beirut. (If you peruse E-Bay, you can still find plenty of Johnny Rocker autographs with his signature “Fuck NY” also inscribed.) We essentially learned that John Rocker was exactly who we thought he was and that he was willing to go on record as that guy. He received some praise for being unapologetic, but largely the response was extreme backlash.

The interview marked the beginning of the end for John Rocker, the baseball player who was soon usurped by the over-the-top personality of John Rocker. For the next several years, there was no subject sacred enough for Rocker to avoid; race, sex, gender, politics, it was all fair game for the former reliever. Even more recently, Rocker launched an English-speaking only campaign to try and strike foreign languages from our country altogether.

But, as intense a character as Rocker was and is, he’s faded from the public eye since very matter-of-factly admitting to using steroids in 2011. That is: until now.

It’s been announced that Johnny Rocker will be a contestant — along with his girlfriend, Julie McGee — on the hit television series "Survivor".

(You couldn’t write this stuff. If you’re really quiet you can still hear the echo of the thunderous ‘why didn’t we think of that?’ face-palm of the entire production staff of Eastbound and Down when they heard the news. Seriously, is there a more perfect story-arc for Kenny Powers?)

As an advocate for tolerance and equality I’m frustrated at the undeserved attention the historic pig is about to receive. But, as an advocate of trashy reality television that typically results in the type of dramatic outbursts that John Rocker was born to provide, yeah, I’m definitely on board.

There’s no question that Rocker doesn’t participate in the types of discussions that garner higher ideals and perpetuate a peaceful, respectful culture. There is also no question that, like the horrors of a tragic train wreck, those within viewing distance are going to find it difficult not to stare. Even if before this moment you had no idea who John Rocker was, you most likely can speak, or at least understand the universal language of the rubbernecker fixated on a dumpster fire.

Is it out of pity? Blood lust? Old-fashioned curiosity? No matter the reason, and as uneasy guilt rushes through my veins in a visceral way, I am going to watch Survivor this season. And I don’t care who knows about it — how’s about that for unapologetic?

Nic R. Krause was born a cranky, curmudgeon of a child in a Minnesota suburb. He was plucked from the muggy tundra and relocated to Colorado Springs 22 years ago. From intramural jai-alai, to his complicated relationship with the Minnesota Vikings, Nic, plainly stated, is bonkers for sports. Follow him on Twitter @NicRKrause.


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