Jeff Pearlman

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John Rocker: II


This won’t work out, but I’m gonna take a moment to respond to a reader comment from a previous post. Jim wrote:

The fact that Rocker is and was an idiot doesn’t change the fact that in my mind you ambushed him…You didn’t go down there telling him you were going to write a story about his inner feelings about minorities and print his uncensored remarks..Not even Rocker would let a reporter near him in that context…Your story is the kind of writing that makes lots of athletes hate reporters..Yeah, it might have been true but did we need to know it..Did Rocker really need to be stripped naked in front of the world? How would you fare in that situation? By the way, I note you moved out of the big city to the ‘burbs..Couldn’t be because you and your family are tired of the charms of city life..The homeless, the squalid masses of people different from yourself, the derelicts and panhandlers…Bad place to raise kids Jeff? Why? Are your reasons that different from what Rocker had to say?


It’s an interesting viewpoint—understandable, and certainly not the first time I’ve heard/read similar feelings. To start in reverse:

A. Uh, yeah, we left New York City for “the homeless, the squalid masses of people different from yourself, the derelicts and panhandlers.” I could no longer handle waking up in the morning and seeing all the black and yellow and red faces stopping me in the street to ask for a $1 for beer. It really started to gross me out.

True reason we left NYC: Couldn’t afford it. To have kids in the city—simply not affordable, unless one is receiving major monetary help or is independently wealthy. Also, the place we moved to: New Rochelle—probably one of the most diverse cities in the state. The reason we moved here, as opposed to 800 other places: The richness of the  diversity. A beautiful thing.

B. As a journalist in the modern era, nothing is more daunting than trying to tear down the barrier publicists and media relation “experts” have placed between celebrities and the press. I understand why it’s there (hell, the Rocker story probably illustrates that very well), but it’s daunting. So when a celebrity actually shows a willingness to truly express himself; to state his beliefs and feelings and loves and hates and, yes, prejudices—well, it’s golden.

Furthermore, I never went to Atlanta to “ambush” John Rocker. As my original story showed, my intent/hope was to reveal that he wasn’t the guy everyone saw on TV … that he was a decent human being merely full o’ stage bluster. I’ve long been a fan of the he’s-not-what-you-actually-think profiles. Hell, one of the reasons Rocker was probably so livid with me is that I (in hindsight, a mistake) told him that’s the kind of story I dig—that I wanted to know the real him.

But what is one to do when the real him is a racist, homophobic anus? Do I, as a reporter, overlook that side of his personality? Do I gloss over the fact that he calls a black teammate a “fat monkey?” Do I still paint the story of a warm, humble man when he’s anything but a warm, humble man?

As Rocker’s actions through the years have shown (see here and here for examples), the guy I profiled in 1999 was the guy who exists.

I get your objections. I just don’t agree.

At all.

  • Cyn

    “Rocker’s actions through the years have shown (see here and here for examples), the guy I profiled in 1999 was the guy who exists.”

    This is the bottom line for me. You didn’t highlight a moment of drunken weakness where he slipped into stupidity…you got him to show you who he really was/is.

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life