April 10th, 2012, and Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen is suspended for 5 games by his team for saying he admires Fidel Castro. The suspension raises some issues. Should athletes be able to say what they want? What about free speech?
Ozzie Guillen was a successful player and has been, arguably, a more successful manager. He played throughout my youth and was known for his defense more than anything. He was however, named to the all-star game a few time. He began managing shortly after his playing career ended. He won two World Series’, the first as a coach for the Marlins and the second as the manager of the Chicago White Sox. The title with the White Sox, in 2005, was the first for the club since 1917 and for many on the South Side of Chicago the man is a hero. Recently he had signed on to manage the Miami Marlins and become the new ‘face’ of the organization. They have just built a new ballpark in the city, revamped their uniforms and spent tons on new player acquisitions and wanted Guillen to help guide them in their new era.
Aside from his career as a player and manager, Guillen is well-known for his controversial comments. He has always spoken his mind and gotten himself in a fair bit of trouble. He has spoken out against anti-immigration law in the US (good). He called a Chicago Sun-Times sports reporter a fag (bad). He claimed that Asian players were treated better than Latino players, citing the fact they are given translators while the Spanish-speaking players are not (interesting observation, though it was received rather poorly). He loves Castro (WTF!?)
Castro? I’m not going to attack this from a political perspective. That’s too easy. Castro is a dictator, enough said. But I will attack from a common sense perspective. Guillen comes off as the stupidest man on the planet, as not spitting on the ground when the name Castro is uttered is enough to get you suspended for 2 games in Miami. But he decided to up the ante and say he loves the man. Is he completely out of touch with the city who’s baseball team he is paid millions of dollars to manage?
What he said was nothing too outrageous. He said he ‘loves’ Castro and admires him for being around for 60 years despite everyone having it in for him. Anywhere but Miami and this might have passed over, like water under the bridge. According to Wikipedia (infallible, like the pope) 34% of the city’s population are Cuban, most of them refugees from the regime or their direct descendants. It’s just bad business to piss off your employer’s major sponsor, so-to-speak. But these are comments that I’ve heard in one variation or another from countless people from Latin America coming from all walks of life. The fact of the matter is, many people in Latin America like it when someone gives the US the middle finger. The US has their finger in every pie in the region, and many people in the region, whatever their political leanings, don’t view him as the evil entity that Americans do. The same sentiment gives Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez a disturbingly high level of approval among otherwise reasonable people that I know.
The comments were made earlier in the year but have just been made public as Time Magazine released the interview. Guillen and the Marlins were in Philadelphia playing the Phillies and Guillen flew back to Miami to address the media there. He spoke in English and Spanish and asked for forgiveness 30 million times in a little under an hour. Outside, people from the Cuban community marched and held up placards asking for his dismissal. Only praising Osama Bin Laden could harken a swifter, more intense response.
So if the team’s response was predictable, what about the media reaction? Predictable, as well. I could not find a single mainstream sports journalist who even hinted at the idea that free speech should be paramount and, having done nothing illegal, should avoid a suspension. Then again, they also earn their living by having everyone follow suit and not rocking the boat. And when someone oversteps the very narrowly drawn lines for accepted decorum, they pounce. As I wrote in another article about Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, not taking the US official stance on politics in the sporting world is career suicide. Calling a sports reporter a ‘fag’, on the other hand, gets a heavy rebuke from the LGBT community and a faxed apology. And before people say it’s not the same, I’ll bet that homophobia and persecution of homosexuals has caused more damage than the Castro dictatorship (see Catholic Church, Spanish Inquisition, Nazi Germany, anti-sodomy laws, etc…). The difference is that the LGBT community doesn’t have as vocal a lobby. And there isn’t as large of an anti-Cuban community (why would there be?) as there is anti-LGBT (why should there be?).
What we have in the end is capitalism, and it’s bastard offspring, marketing, ruling the day. You can’t market a team to Cuban-Americans when the face of the team is pro-Castro. You can’t market a team to gays, period. The backlash would be fierce. So Guillen was suspended after apologizing profusely. His return five days later was anti-climactic. The lone protester out front of the stadium would have spent more time on his iPhone than actually protesting. The Marlins should have known after his ‘fag’ comments that anything and everything would come out of his mouth, they just didn’t think he would say the one thing that is truly kryptonite in their neck of the woods. They wanted a centerpiece for their franchise and what they got was a public relations nightmare.