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LEARNING DAY

Mascot Week: The Insane Tragedy of Rock’n Rollen 🌭

Do you know why people hold up JOHN 3:16 signs at sporting events? If you’re an idiot in Christ, like me, you assumed it was some Bible verse about sports. “And the Lord saw the goal, and it was good.” They’ve probably been doing it forever, holding up JON III:XVI tablets at the Colosseum right before getting demolished by a lion. But really the whole JOHN 3:16/sports thing only started in the 1980s, and it’s all thanks to this guy:

You probably recognize that guy. Even I recognize him, and I mostly think of sport as a deodorant scent. His real name is Rollen Fredrick Stewart, and he’s usually just called “Rainbow Man,” though his official mascot name is “Rock’n Rollen.”

This is a longform, information-dense article about a weird kind of cultural poison that started in the 1970s and spans to the modern day. You’ll check out of it about six paragraphs in. But at some point, I am going to write this sentence:

“Rock’n Rollen, the most prolific fan mascot and the reason you see JOHN 3:16 signs at sporting events to this day, was found guilty of all charges and sentenced to three consecutive life sentences.”

Let’s earn it.

If I had one guess as to Rollen Stewart’s life story – the biography of an inspirational football clown – I would say he was raised in tragic circumstances but turned it all around thanks to the power of laughter, Jesus Christ, and balls going into the places where people want them. I’m half right: His father died when he was a kid, his mother when he was a teenager. His sister the same year, strangled to death. Lesser men would grow bitter and vow revenge on the uncaring world that let that happen. It takes a hero to endure such compounding tragedy and still get up every morning to do the electric slide at a Padres game.

Stewart and his then wife, Linda, got heavy into disco in the late ‘70s and toured the circuit with their matching rainbow-dyed hair, calling themselves “the People Pleasers.” I assume that’s late ‘70s orgy code for ambidextrous. They had one goal in life: No, not to glorify Christ. They wanted to make it on The Gong Show. Not win, just on. No illusions, they only wanted to hear a gong in person and then they could die, complete.

But all of this was hiding a dark secret…

That was not his real hair.

“The wigs got dirty,” Stewart admitted in an interview. “I told people it was my real hair.”

Betrayal. Betrayal most foul. That lie sets a dark stage for those to come.

Rollen Stewart lived a life of ease, coasting off a family inheritance. He worked, briefly, as a drag racer, a motorcycle mechanic, and a pot farmer. That’s the raddest dude at any party, right up to the moment he pulls out an acoustic guitar. Eventually, Rollen tired of doing awesome jobs, and figured he should be an actor, where he could get paid to pretend to do those same jobs. He moved to Hollywood, and as part of his effort to get noticed, he put on the rainbow wig and started dancing at sporting events. His big break in the field of ‘annoying guy briefly caught on camera’ came at the 1977 NBA Finals. He went national. Finally, the whole world knew his name: Sit Down, Asshole.

Rollen Stewart got exactly as famous as a person with a lot of persistence but no talent should be: he was in a Budweiser commercial and then nothing. A footnote briefly enjoyed and quickly forgotten. He simply lived in the wrong time. If he got his start today, he’d have 80 million followers on a social network I’ve never heard of, making bank off his own line of Chinese leggings and artisanal meat box endorsements.

So, here we have a fun-loving manic narcissist with no direction and a tenuous grip on fame. It’s time to find religion! After a long day at the buffoonery factory, Rollen left the 1980 Super Bowl “feeling sad. It was the shallowness. I was being seen all over the world, never as myself.” Tragic. Tell you what, Rollen Stewart, whenever I’m feeling sad I go to a football game and wait for the big screen to show me some dancing asshole in a rainbow afro. Always cheers me up. Hm? What’s that, you say? Oh no.

That night Stewart watched televangelist Charles Taylor on his show, Today in Bible Prophecy. Stewart was at a personal rock bottom and half insane from unfulfilled delusions of greatness – televagenlism’s prime demographic. Rollen Stewart was born again, and decided he must give his life to the lord. Such as it was.

He started bringing that iconic JOHN 3:16 sign to games… and doing everything else exactly the same. The rainbow wig, the gyrating, it was all perfect. His only mistake was never leaving space enough for Christ to gyrate beside him.

That’s the intended narrative for this kind of story, at least: Rollen was so inspired by God, he just wrote down the first thing that occurred to him and the lord provided the rest. You’re supposed to think this is spontaneous, almost an accident, a miracle. It’s never so simple. Every step of this was carefully calculated. First, Rollen met up with his friend and fellow sports paladin, Reginald Hamman – they had to put their heads together and figure out exactly how to capitalize on this wonderful gift Rollen had, which was the ability to go to games and make an ass out of himself for four seconds of total airtime.

Hamman had it! In his words: “You only have a few seconds and if that’s all you’ve got, just a few seconds, what are you gonna say? We got it down to the fact we’re gonna say John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Because in this media immediacy world, you have a little sound bite and then you’re off.”

It’s marketing. It’s basic marketing, but this was 1980. Ad companies were still publishing full-page 800 word screeds about how tire treads are like your family. And here were two religious nutjobs inventing “Got Milk?” Not only was the message short, but its cryptic nature only helped. Hamman knew the act of getting the audience to look up what it meant, on some level, hooked them into the experience. Discovery is often mistaken for commitment. It’s why I’ve never heard of your favorite band.

So they had the perfect message, but no plan: you can’t just go out there, do something fun, and hope people enjoy your work. No, you have to devote your whole life to debasing yourself in cynical marketing ploys to stand any chance of being seen. It’s a lot like being a modern-day author.

Rollen and Hamman gamed it all out. For football, it was easy – just get a seat behind the goalposts. For basketball, it was the backboard. For baseball, home plate. If he couldn’t get those seats? He’d just invade the ticketholder’s space anyway. Rollen targeted families with young children, because then he could argue the kid wasn’t taking up much space. He could slip in there right beside them. He could even hold them!

Remember, the 1980s were a high trust society. You would often hand your children off to aggressive clowns, freeing up your hands to double-fist leaded beer.

Rollen carried around a portable television, watching where the cameras were pointing and hustling over to inject himself into frame. In his weirdly sinister words: “I had watched television, seen all the angles, and saw a person could stand in the background in all of these shots and become instantly known. I had a dream in technology. I needed a magnet. To stand there as a person would be fine, but I could do twice as good if I had a color scheme or something.”

He moneyballed sports direction. He SEO’d football attention. He hacked national television and installed a virus called Rollen Stewart. So here he was, everywhere he wanted to be. And camera operators knew a shot of a dancing rainbow doofus livened up otherwise stagnant audience pans, so they couldn’t get enough of him. Wait, no- the furious opposite of that.

“I know directors who threatened to kill the guy,” Brent Musberger said of Rollen. “Because he would get in behind very dramatic shots and the eye, as you watched the screen, would be attracted immediately to this wacko.”

TV crews fucking hated him, but Stewart was min-maxxing an exposure build. He knew camera-fu, and all televised sports were helpless against it. In our collective memory, Rock’n Rollen the rainbow wig guy comes across as some fun spontaneous thing, but it was all a cynical, joyless battle for attention that made everyone involved miserable.

Rollen expanded. You saw him at golf games, at the Indy 500, he was next to the fucking medal stands at the Olympics. He became the Ever Dream This Man? of the 1980s – an involuntary, unwelcome, wholly manufactured tumor in the cultural consciousness. But fame works on the same rules as assassination: if somebody is willing to give their entire life over to this one goal, it becomes very difficult to stop them.

Luckily, during this dark spiral, Rollen found love and it healed the holes in his worm-addled brain. He met Margaret Hockridge in 1984, and they were married ten months later.

And then he brought her on tour with him. Living out of his van, spending every penny traveling to every televised event possible just to be seen for four seconds. For Christ. Of course, all this for Christ.

Well, at least he found a kindred spirit, right? Everyone needs that. Male blobfish are real sexy to lady blobfish. It’s nice that Rollen Stewart found a partner in lunacy, and maybe somebody to love more than his own bizarre obsession. I sure hope the next sentence doesn’t make me look like an asshole.

In 1986, at Shea Stadium, Margaret stood in the wrong spot with her own JOHN 3:16 sign – an unoptimized spot! She was not seen by the camera. So Rollen hunted her down and began choking her.

When your whole life is devoted solely to showing JOHN 3:16 signs at sporting events, when every waking moment becomes about that, when you’re convinced this ridiculous inconsequential thing is actually a mission from God with all of humanity on the line, when you sincerely believe all of that is true – what is a wife, but another post to hang a sign on?

Obviously, Rollen had gone completely insane. Four letters and three numbers started bouncing around his brain like shrapnel, shredding everything else in there. Things took a turn. He wrecked his van, you know – the sign transporting box? It was broken, hindering his ability to deliver signs. That was a sign of the endtimes – holy shit, “sign” of the endtimes? That has the word sign in it! It’s a sign! Holy shit! “It’s a sign” has a sign in it, too!

Rollen was certain the apocalypse was coming. It might be sign-based. Dancing was no longer enough. More drastic tactics were necessary: In the 1990 Masters Tournament, just as Jack Nicklaus was about to swing – Rollen sounded an air horn. All eyes turned that way, in fury.

JOHN 3:16.

That sucks, but it’s still playful. The Noid might do that shit, and a Domino’s pizza driver would beat him with a shovel for it.

In the early ‘90s, Rollen set off a series of “stink bomb” attacks. And when people looked around for the source of the smell?

JOHN 3:16.

Still cute, still mischievous. Bart Simpson sets off stink bombs, and we love him for it. Hey, we keep calling them stink bombs. What actually were they?

“A timer, a knife, and an acid-filled balloon.”

“Stink bombs.” You find that exact wording in every article about it. Because everyone wanted Rollen Stewart to stay fun. Even as he deployed these chemical weapons during a crowded Good Friday service in the Crystal Cathedral. Even as he bombed the Orange County newspaper with them. Especially when he detonated one of these acid balloons in the studio audience of a TBN show.

The newspapers were all “They’re just a lil’ smelly! He’s still fun. Fifteen people had to be hospitalized for severe breathing problems, but don’t come to the rink if you can’t handle the stink!”

That joke works better if this took place at a hockey rink, and if fifteen people weren’t actually hospitalized by a chemical weapon.

In September, 1992, Rollen Stewart hired two day laborers for undisclosed work. Please picture him still wearing the wig. I don’t think that’s true, but no newspaper specifically says it isn’t, so yes it is. Stewart just rock’n Rollen up to the Home Depot in a loincloth and rainbow afro, telling two immigrants he needs them for the day, and “don’t worry why.” Imagine how desperate you have to be to take that job. Watching all your friends hanging back, but still hopping in the bed of that truck with a shrug like “hey, not my first time being on a clown menu.”

Rollen drove them to the Hyatt Hotel near LAX, and booked a room on the seventh floor. Still, the day laborers did not flee. They followed him to his room, presumably ready to strip down to their underwear and beat him with pool noodles to completion. That’s called the Airport Special; it means wage-and-a-half, but it is not a dealbreaker.

They opened the door to find 29 year-old maid Paula Madera-Chan still cleaning the room. She tried to excuse herself before the noodling started, but Rollen knew that God only gives you the number of hostages you can handle. He pulled out his .45 automatic revolver. Please picture the rainbow wig, still on. No news story says it wasn’t! I checked!

Paula was a woman, and thus had heightened clown instincts. She locked herself in the bathroom immediately. Knowing that when an airport hotel maid panics, shit is about to get too real, both of the day laborers also fled. Rollen was sick of all the fleeing. He nailed the door shut. He called the media, he threatened to shoot at the nearby planes. He prepared for a standoff. He covered the windows to prevent sniper-fire.

Guess what with.

Rollen was certain the Rapture was coming in less than a week. And what messenger would Christ choose to warn his followers, if not the dancing rainbow wig guy from the football games?

Playful to a fault, Rollen frequently paused his apocalyptic rants to lob “stink bombs” at the cops below. Stink bombs which, remember, were actually acid-filled balloons. That sounds over the top for a Golden Age comic book villain-

The ensuing standoff lasted eight hours. That maid was hiding in a bathtub, listening to an armageddon clown scream and throw acid at cops for eight straight hours. You don’t even hope for survival past the first hour. By hour six, all you hope is that drinking enough hotel shampoo is fatal. She must have known, with absolute certainty, that Rollen Stewart was going to wear her out of that hotel. But no, Paula Madera-Chan survived being a hostage in a clown’s last stand. That’s the only real miracle in this article.

Finally, SWAT blew in the door with shaped explosives, and they took down the rainbow afro dancing guy from the Bud commercial with a concussion grenade. That’s true. It’s a true sentence. You can see it happen.

I love that it still looks wacky. It’s what a barrel would do in Looney Tunes after Bugs Bunny threw a stick of dynamite in it. A perfect, goofy end to our most goofball domestic terrorist.

Rollen was charged with eight felonies, one per hour, and rejected a plea deal of 12 years because he thought this was his spotlight. This trial was going to be the center of the world, because he was the center of the world, because his personal mission was the center of the world. Finally, it would all be worth it.

It wasn’t. Rollen’s trial was only ever a novelty headline, and he threw the rest of his life away for a blurb on page 8, next to a local furniture store ad for Crazy Dan’s Credenza CreDayz.

Clearly, Rollen should’ve tried for an insanity defense. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome. Welcome to the darkest laugh in this article about terrorist clowns:

When asked if he heard voices, Stewart said “no, I’m not hearing voices. I’ve been hearing the voice of God for years.”

We’ve finally earned it:

Rock’n Rollen, the most prolific fan mascot and the reason you see JOHN 3:16 signs at sporting events to this day, was found guilty of all charges and sentenced to three consecutive life sentences.

You know how the rest of this story goes: after years behind bars to reflect on his crimes, Rollen Stewart is a man overcome with regret. In a 2004 interview, having just served 12 years in prison, he was asked to elaborate on exactly what those regrets were. Rollen said: “That I did it at the wrong time.”

That was it! He’s mad he got the date wrong.

I didn’t photoshop that. He posed for that photo in jail, and the paper ran it with that headline. I guess I added the word balloon, but I think we can all agree it was implied.

Everyone else involved with this must be fucking shattered, though. They egged this guy on thinking he was just going to spread the love of Christ with fun dancing and kooky costumes! Let’s check in on the ex-wife he choked for unoptimized sign placement, on the day she heard about the police standoff: “It tore me up that he would go to such lengths and sacrifice his own life… when nobody’s going to listen anyway.”

She’s only upset because it didn’t work! Not about Rollen’s potential death, or the hostages, or even all the human signpost abuse – the only distressing thing about this whole situation is that nobody listened to the dancing clown with the .45.

I bet Reginald Hamman, the guy who came up with the whole JOHN 3:16 meme, is pretty fucked up about it. That quote is exclusively about the love and acceptance of Christ, there’s no way he’s happy this all ended with hucking acid balloons at the police.

That’s an exact quote! Including the choking up and the sobbing – he was so moved by how great this all turned out he couldn’t even talk about it. They were tears of joy! That’s the most terrifying part of this whole thing: everyone thought it went just great. A man tried to spread the word of Jesus Christ with acid bombs and automatic revolvers and all involved think the whole thing was not only a great idea, but inspirational.

Alright, I made up that second quote. I think we can all agree it was implied.

But it wasn’t worth it, right? Rollen Stewart left a tainted legacy, and now anyone can look him up on Google and instantly see that he’s-

Just a fun loving missionary. That’s the notable part of the story, Google. Good job.

And to think this all started with a simple passion for sports. A longing to be part of the game from a fan who just wanted to spread joy-

“I despised sports,” Rollen told the LA Times in 2008.

Sports were only ever a means. First for fame, and then for Christ. That order.

I was wrong earlier – no, not about the terrorist fan mascot and the armed standoff. Absolutely true. But I said the most terrifying part of this is how everyone thought it went just great. When really, the most terrifying part is that it all went just great.

To this day, you can find JOHN 3:16 signs at every major sporting event. You can buy a Stone Cold Steve Austin jockstrap referencing it. In 2009, Tim Tebow stenciled it on his eye black.

Tebow launched it to greater heights than ever. It was the number one Google search that day, back when Google was how you searched things instead of how you learned which domestic terrorists their AI respects.

JOHN 3:16 is now inextricably tied into every level of sports, it’s one of the world’s most persistent memes, and it’s all thanks to the efforts of a dancing clown mascot terrorist who fucking hated sports.

Happy Mascot Week, everybody!

This article was brought to you by our fine sponsor and Hot Dog Supreme: Devon the Rogue Supreme, who has never been convicted of Clown Terrorism. Why do you ask?