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3:33 Sports Short #33 // The Rock Says by Francisco Delgado

We mourned The Rock when white people started to cheer him. They could buy The Rock’s merchandise carefree. They wore his t-shirts in the front row. Their voices, while as loud as ours, could actually be heard because they were so much closer.

We loved The Rock first, though: us misfit kids at school, us poor kids, the brown or black and the ugliest-of-all kids. When he debuted, he smiled the way we wished we could: a bright-white and unapologetic smile. We memorized it so we could substitute it for our own one day. Our teeth were either covered in braces or, even worse, still as crooked as they were when they came in and as crooked as they’d always be.

We loved him when he turned against the crowd that had booed him for months for daring to be so successful so young, while also not looking like any of them. The Rock: Pacific Islander, black, and part Native American. In his smiling face that originally begged them to smile back, we saw our own. In the crowd’s cruel rejection of him (“Die, Rocky! Die!”), the reality of our lives. In how he fought back and overcame them all, one by one then all at once, we saw our dreams made real.

We loved his catchphrases. By referring to himself in the third person (“The Rock says”), he celebrated himself in a way that we previously felt we never deserved. By telling his opponents to “know you role and shut your mouth,” that it “doesn’t matter what you think,” he took what was often said to us and gave it back.

We really wished we could buy his merchandise. But our parents had already paid so much for the tickets, our fathers had taken the day off from work to bring us, and we had already gotten our one drink and snack. A t-shirt seemed greedy.

We had our voices to cheer him, anyway: “Rocky! Rocky! Rocky!” We wondered if he could even hear us, so few in number and all the way up in the nosebleeds.

So when did the white kids start wearing his shirt? When did we find ourselves surrounded by them, still without shirts of our own? It happened slow and steady, we think. Or maybe it happened all at once. Not long ago, they’d been cheering for Degeneration-X, a group of white guys that mocked The Rock with blackface and then gestured to their crotch if we dared be uppity about it. We just know that when everyone started to say The Rock’s catchphrases alongside us (but not alongside us), he was a little less ours. And we realized that he would never be ours in the same way again.


Francisco Delgado lives with his wife and their son in Queens, New York. His creative work has appeared primarily online, most recently in Wigleaf, Barrelhouse, and The Molotov Cocktail, and is forthcoming in Side B and Glimmer Train. He is working on a short story collection, of which "The Rock Says" is a part.

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