ATLANTA (BP)–Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker opened mouth and inserted foot when he vented his feelings of prejudice and ignorance to a Sports Illustrated reporter, causing in one single article a national furor and bringing embarrassment upon the Braves organization and the city of Atlanta.
There’s no reason to repeat his statements disparaging homosexuals, AIDS patients, foreigners, minorities and single mothers. They’ve been well documented. Rocker was clearly out of line, and I’ll leave his fate to the Braves’ higher-ups.
However, I do think each of us can learn some valuable lessons for life from Rocker’s tirade. In no particular order:
Lesson number one: People matter to God. The people whom Rocker was trash-talking are people for whom Jesus died. For God so loved the world, the homosexuals, AIDS patients, foreigners, minorities, single mothers and even New York Mets fans, that he sent Jesus to die on the cross. God hates the sin in our lives, but he loves us sacrificially. People need Jesus. All people. Are people important to you?
Lesson number two: Words hurt. Someone said, “The first screw to get loose in our head is the one that holds our tongue.” We’ve all been there. We said something that we didn’t mean to say and it hurt. Like throwing feathers to the wind, words spoken cannot be retrieved. With our tongues we have the power to bless and uplift or the power to curse and kill the spirit in a person. We need to guard our words and make certain they are glorifying God. We need to pray, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3). Are you careful with your words?
Lesson number three: Grace is more godly than legalism. I happened to be driving when the Braves’ news conference about Rocker’s comments was broadcast live, so I listened to most of it. I was quite surprised at the position the Braves’ took. They admitted up front they could give Rocker his outright release, but, instead, based on Rocker’s humility and remorse, they decided to keep him and work with him for now. Braves President Stan Kasten said, “What we have here is a case of a player who, to me at least, has expressed a great deal of remorse immediately and hasn’t backed away from that at all, who has accepted the responsibility and sought help. And under those circumstances, I’m not going to abandon a player or an employee or friend who’s in those circumstances.”
Biblically, this is a redemptive approach that is unusual for the corporate world that normally puts the profit of the company before the welfare of the person. The Braves are concerned about their image, but they seem to be equally concerned about Rocker as a person. Are you full of grace? God is.
Lesson number four: When we mess up, we need to take responsibility and show sincere humility and remorse. We need to ask forgiveness. Even in God’s grace, he calls us to accountability. Do you easily admit when you are wrong?
Lesson number five: We need to be careful with our anger. The Bible says, “Be angry, but do not sin.” Anger shows up in different ways. Sometimes anger is turned inward and is never released constructively. That can become depression. Sometimes anger sits and simmers until it spills out on a convenient recipient who may be totally unrelated to the cause of our anger. Sometimes anger management is a problem and losing our temper and pitching a fit are ways of life. That is sin!
We live in an age of rage. We see it on the roads. We see it in the schools. You can even see it on the golf course. A golfer was asked why he bought a new putter. He replied, “The old one didn’t float.” The words of our mouth may reflect the content of our heart. “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” Jesus said (Matthew 12:24). Ask, “Am I an angry person? Does my tone or do my words reflect that?”
It would be easy to criticize John Rocker. The criticism would be justified. But maybe we should pray for him and see how God works in his life. Maybe he has learned from this tragic mistake. And in the meantime, I’m going to learn from his fiasco. What about you?
Chancey is pastor of McDonough Road Baptist Church, Fayetteville, Ga., and a regular columnist for The Fayetteville Citizen News.