Why Ozzie Guillen Is NOT Protected By The 1st Amendment

You’ve read the remarks by now:

“I love Fidel Castro. I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that (expletive) is still there.”

That’s from a subscriber-only article in Time. Ken Rosenthal has written that in the context of how Fidel Castro is viewed in South Florida, the Marlins need to do more than have Ozzie Guillen apologize at his news conference tomorrow, that they need to suspend him for as much as a month.

A predominant response from fans who – correctly, I think – believe we have gotten to the point where we take everything either too seriously or not seriously enough, has been “What happened to Ozzie’s free speech? What about the 1st Amendment?”

Well – what about it?

Ever read it?

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

That’s the whole thing. In case you think there’s a hidden meaning in there somewhere protecting Ozzie Guillen’s – oryour -right to say whatever he wants without consequences from his employers or his community: No.

Translation of the cornerstone of the Bill of Rights, the 1st Amendment to our Constitution to the current mess?

Congress shall make no law abridging Ozzie Guillen’s freedom of speech.

His bosses? They can abridge it all they want.

Ironically, the heavy-handedness of local politicians trying to capitalize on the situation may serve to protect Ozzie. The Chairman of the Board of Commissioners of Miami-Dade wants Guillen to resign, or to be fired. “To say you respect Fidel Castro,” writes Joe A. Martinez, “suggests he also respects dictators such as Hugo Chavez, Daniel Ortega, Adolf Hitler and Sadam Hussein.”

The hell it does.

Ozzie is guilty of praising Castro’s longevity, in much the same kind of way he would praise Jamie Moyer if he threw a 4-hit shutout against the Marlins. But there are third rails, and in South Florida, Castro is viewed as the destroyer of lives, the ruination of the homeland, the man who separated families, tortured opponents, the man who sent would-be refugees to drown or be eaten by sharks, and sent a country back to 1947.

There are survivors, and the relatives of those who didn’t survive, and one of the things they don’t want to hear is that there’s anything good about Castro. And I can’t blame them. You can’t view this exclusively from your own perspective. You need to remember that much of the geographical area the Marlins represent view what has happened to Cuba since 1959 the way Israel views its more belligerent neighbors – or worse.

The usually hip Deadspin was particularly tone-deaf on this:

I’m not Cuban, nor have I ever been to Miami so I don’t know how this played out among that population, but I would just say this…

No, don’t. The 1st Amendment doesn’t protect you either, Bud.

If the Marlins don’t act decisively, one anti-Castro group plans to picket and protest the team until Guillen is out, or Castro leaves office, or both – In which case Ozzie had better hope he has completely misjudged the dictator’s longevity. One assumes a serious suspension would tamp down the fire pretty quickly.

There are a lot of arguments here, but the one to leave out involves wrapping Guillen in the 1st Amendment. It might be nice (or it might be disastrous) if we all had some kind of private immunity from controversial statements, but we clearly don’t.


  1. Leesa Brown (@ReasonVsFear)

    Sometimes I wish everyone had to take civics refreshers every once in a while. I just do. But then, most of our politicians need a basic understanding of civics, and that’s downright scary.

    Thanks, Keith! Glad you understand what the First Amendment (and is NOT).

  2. Rosalie

    Ok So Guillen cant cry 1st Amendment, (not that he was anyway) but to me there is something sad or restricting here, for lack of a better word. When the world has become so sensitive and people just chomp at the bit to tear you down for voicing you OWN OPINION. Well yes, he is working for someone else, but does it say in his contract he can’t talk about Castro? As for those offended, the offense was indirect,and facts as has been proven over the last 8+ years, have been anything but facts… When we close dialogue,we close the doors to freedom…

    • justme2

      If Guillen was still with CWS and made these comments, it wouldn’t even be an issue. But to make this statement when you work in South Florida would be like walking into a biker bar and saying that Harleys suck — sure, you’re entitled to your opinion but you’d better be prepared to face the consequences (and have a good medical/dental plan).

  3. Tuli Reno

    I am forever having this discussion about the First Amendment and I, too, wish people would read the thing. Or how about the people who think Ozzie is being denied his 1st Am rights wanting to shut up the people who criticize him. How hypocritical!

  4. sojourner28

    Ozzie had a similar faux pas in 2006 with a homophoic comment in Chicago. It is sad he has not yet learned to stop and think before he speaks. While he is entitled to his opinion, as we all are, some should not be shared with press within earshot. He has been around long enough, and has made this mistake before. He cannot use ignorance as an excuse .

    • Rosalie

      I don’t decide on his “punishment” I’m not his employer, but still thankful I’m allowed to voice my opinion right here, and not give a crap who agrees with me or not.

  5. chedberg88

    No, it doesn’t say in his contract that he cannot talk about Fidel Castro. But that doesn’t mean that he cannot be fired for it either. It doesn’t say in his contract that he won’t lose 100 games, but if he does I would be willing to bet that he would be looking for a new job.

    Ozzie’s right to free speech was not violated. In fact, quite the opposite. He said it, we all have now heard him say it. He’s not going to jail, he’s not going to be burned at the stake, he’s not going to be excommunicated.

    He exercised his 1st Amendment right and if they choose, the Marlins brass will also.

  6. Judy B

    The same “freedom of speech” argument comes up every time hateful words are spoken. Yes, folks, the words are protected. One cannot be jailed for them (unless they are used to incite a riot or murder, that is a different issue) but one CAN be fired for them. One can also be taken off the air for them, sued for them, fined for them. There is no law protecting your job for saying whatever you want.

  7. Rosalie

    Here we go… Guillen, did not make a “hate” speech… As with most things in the press, apples and oranges still look different, no matter how many times the press says they don’t

  8. cpmikea

    Guillen’s comments just smack to me of Marge Schott’s comments regarding Hitler being misunderstood back in 1993 that got her banned from baseball for a year. There is precedent for behavior like this, and under Selig’s watch. We’ll see if he reacts similarly here.

  9. E. Adam Jackson

    Wrong, Keith. If Congress can’t block his right then we have the right and not even the government can stop it. You misread it. I’m surprised given your usual on-point observations. I hope your’e not trying to brown nose your way back to TV, don’t do it man. Castro has helped millions and it’s true the USA tried many times to kill Fidel & so far he survived all attempts.

    • Rosalie

      Responsibility works both ways.. Putting things in perspective and not making comments mean more then they are intended to mean about the author, is key.
      As for Keith his his blog is not an opinion about Ozzie, but more about the 1st amendment….

    • Lisette Reina-Naranjo

      Would you please specify how Castro has helped millions? My family gets a lb of rice for a month…1 lb of meat if its available….there is no soap, sanitary napkins for women, detergent, dishwashers,washing machines….roofs are collapsong, houses falling apart…family can send money but there are no materials to buy…people’s “freedom of speech” does not exist because you are jailed and beaten if you do not agree with the government…you are either ignorant and do not know your history or we are talking about a different Castro…..

  10. ShoeBeDoBeDo

    People talk too much. In fact, thanks in part to social media like Twitter and Facebook, we now have a platform in which to express our opinions and say whatever is on our minds 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And perhaps with all of that opportunity for self-expression comes the seriously misinformed sense that we can say whatever we want without consequence. For our own good, sometimes we just need to shut up.

  11. Juan

    What’s the name of that Smith’s song? Ah yes, “Bigmouth Strikes Again”!
    However, if I had a nickel for every time the inflexible, humorless Cuban community in South Florida takes swift offense at any and all trivial or off-the-cuff comments that go against their oh-so-sensitive, Batista-loving political stances…

    It’s a recurring political cartoon in South America, the last time I saw it, it was with Baby Bush jumping up and down from the mainland, throwing a tantrum and screaming “I’m gonna bury you, Fidel!”.
    Meanwhile Castro looks from the island and writes “Bush” on the bottom of a list, with a few names above crossed out: Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Papa Bush and Clinton.

    Now Ozzie is from Venezuela, right? Like I said, it’s a recurring, popular joke down there. It’s a joke that keeps on giving, after all this time.

  12. wbjethro

    I think his comment was a stupid thing to say. The First Amendment, as popularly defined, (as opposed to Constitutionally defined) would only protect his right to SAY what he wants. However, it doesn’t say anything about consequences. And yet there are laws that punish irresponsible speech, such as the cliched ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater or inciting a riot.
    So I guess his right to actually say it might be generally protected. He just shouldn’t have said in that packed theater called South Florida. I say suffer the consequences, Ozzie.

  13. Daryl L. L. Houston

    Reblogged this on Two Ells and commented:

    I don’t have a huge stake in how Ozzie does in Miami or how Fidel does in Cuba, but the whole “everybody’s got a first amendment right to say whatever they want to” thing has always bugged me. Olbermann gets it right.

  14. Patricia Ellyn Powell

    Well explained, Keith. My lawyer used to say, “Your rights end where the other person’s begin.” People can say whatever, but must face the consequences, eh? I look forward to the conference today. Something I thought was really unfair, that is similar…was when Donald Trump fired Lou Farigno this past Sunday. Trump asked Lou WHICH team’s video he liked best. Lou was honest and admitted he liked the other team’s better. He was simply being honest about it and responding truthfully to a question. Trump saw it as a lack of loyalty. Thank goodness, Trump’s son pointed out that HONESTY is a good quality. We have to be careful not to lose that. One reason Countdown with KO has been so popular is that you speak up and say what many of us are thinking! There is no such thing as true freedom of speech. No such thing as true freedom…well…there is, but one would have to live alone on an island to exercise it. Even independent wealth can’t buy it. Thanks!

    • Patricia Ellyn Powell

      Sorry. I should have spelled it Ferrigno. I didn’t check…and being anti-violence, I have not seen it in print much in my life. English teachers! I still wonder if it is right. Mercy.

  15. marylcaruso

    What Ozzie Guillen said was inappropriate at best. He seems to have forgotten he represents the Marlins who represent the South Florida area. That said there is a responsibility that comes with his position within the organization. He represents the organization, management and the team. He should be aware of his responsibility to them and to the community his club represents. Spouting inanities does not make for a good impression or garner loyalty from fans of the Marlins. He should pony up and suffer the consequences of being so flippant in his remarks.

  16. OzzieBigMouth

    Ozzie should lose his job for his opinion on a head of state? He is a manager of a baseball team in South Florida. His comments are insensitive, but he is not a sworn representative of the area, which hardly supports the team anyway. Where’s Jeffrey Loria on all this? Probably getting another sweetheart deal from MLB, while another of his teams draws the fewest fans.

  17. msblkwidow

    Well, I just saw the Pope with Castro. It appeared to me that the Pope likes Castro. Or…maybe it was just a photo opt. Maybe American Cubans think the Pope should be fired. Anyway, 1st amendment right is only for a handful of Americans. Thanks Keith.

  18. dmuncy

    Everything you’ve written here is correct as always. The odd thing about all this is … Ozzie used his free-speech to speak his opinion on Castro’s longevity, the very free-speech that a LOT of Cuban-Americans came to America for to begin with.

  19. Sam

    TimeWarner, just another heartless, faceless giant media conglomerate, was trying to make a few extra bucks off another pointless controversy. Ozzie was obviously joking in a stream-of-consciousness style and any responsible journalist (any of those left?) would have contacted him for clarification. But no the corporate masters have to squeeze every dollar out of any potential source of revenue, even if needless hurt comes of it. TimeWarner– almost as big a joke as NewsCorp. I hate all of them.

  20. Michael Duffy

    Richie Havens has a line in one of his songs that goes,
    ” If you stand for what you believe in be prepared to be shot down”. True revolutionary statements do not look for 1st ammendment rights. Truth does not require approval.

  21. Robert Regli

    This reminds me of how boxing stripped Muhammed Ali the day after he refused draft induction. He wasn’t arrested, he was ultimately acquitted, and he lost five of his best years. The people that supported this now would rather forget their pro Vietnam politics that cost 50,000 American lives and millions of Vietnamese ones. There are a few thousand Cubans in Miami who have a personal hatred of Fidel Castro, and they have controlled U.S. policy for decades. NO OTHER COUNTRY IN THE WORLD BOYCOTTS CUBA. Europeans view it as their best vacation spot, like we do Hawaii. If Florida wasn’t a “swing state” the embargo would have ended decades ago. Yes, absent contract or union provisions the Marlins can do whatever they want, but I would bet they would have to pay his contract. There is no way that what he said violated any morals clause. I will enjoy the fight over this which will raise the profile of our idiotic Cuba policy.

  22. Xavier Onassis, EMT-P

    I appreciate the nuance, and I agree with the statements. However, as a police activist, the biggest obstacle we face in ethical policing is the absolute restriction on free speech among first responders. We’re not baseball players. We’re the tail end of the government, and the front line for the government’s war on transparency.

  23. LegalMind

    By saying less than what he might have felt, Ozzie actually is getting in more trouble for it. While the Constitution says that Congress will not make laws prohibiting free speech, it doesn’t speak to private companies. Sure. However, that alone does not give private companies the right to DISCRIMINATE against an individual for his political stance and deprive that individual of life, liberty or property. That’s not really what happened though. Had Ozzie come out and said that he is a communist and supports socialist ideals, and had the Marlins taken action against him for those comments, then equal protection and discrimination issues would apply. The same way you or I cannot be fired from our job for having a democrat/republic sticker on our cars (EVEN IF WE ARE PRIVATELY EMPLOYED). In this case, showing his “respect” for Fidel Castro is not political free speech, however. It’s personally praising the leader of the country which a good percentage of your fan base hates.

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  25. Lisette Reina-Naranjo

    Ozzie is an idiot with no filters….he has gotten in trouble before for saying “Viva Chavez”, for homophobic comments and now for “loving Castro” He can praise, love and hate whoever he pleases…however have the common sense to know that if you say it out loud there will be consequences….if the cuban community decides to not support the Marlins his job is in jeapordy. Marlins ballpark is smack in the middle of Little Havana…..and a good portion of their fanbase and ticket sales comes from the cuban /hispanic community in that area. Why would you want to hurt and offend those that have suffered because of castro and are willing to go support you at your new stadium? …. no one would ever dare support someone that had something nice to say about Hitler…mainly because there is nothing good to say about him and the same goes for Castro….Those that know Cuban History know that the exile experience is still a deep wound in this community. After 55 years many people are still suffering……and the cuban community knows that no one really cares except them….however, why would anyone with any kind of intellect say they love Castro…you know nothing good is going to come from it if you live and work in a predominantly anti-castro community. If you love him…good for you! but keep your mouth shut because no one really gives a hoot about your moronic opinion. You now have gotten yourself into hot water. Your employers know that your words have caused a rift and they won’t even come and support you during your press conference…..Ozzie…learn to filter your opinions…..and choose your words wisely!

  26. Mark

    Just Another Reason to Dispise Major League Baseball
    and the Morons Who Act as Pundits for Amerika’s Pastime

    Years ago I read that the Soviets demanded anyone interested in being U.S. Diplomat for the purpose of understanding American politics and culture was encouraged to learn the game of baseball. The uproar about Miami Marlin’s manager Ozzie Guillen’s statements about Fidel Castro serve a perfect example.

    Let’s also not forget – it’s just baseball and sports. This is just a ruse to help obfuscate the real issues – and its working.

    Well of course as is typical in what passes for journalism in today’s Americka, the issue has deviated from a discussion about what Ozzie Guillen actually said and is now focused on out of context hyperbole, distortion, and stretches into the fantasy world of right wing punditry. Either way Fidel Castro wins. Again.
    The fact is that in any head to head comparison, regardless of Castro’s crimes against humanity, brutalities, and suppression, he lags far behind many U.S. Presidents and the congresses that support their policies and abuses. Ronald Reagan for example is known as the Butcher of Central America for policies he pursued both legally and illegally which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands during his 8 year term. He also supported Saddam Hussein, Manuel Noriega and Pol Pot. Lyndon Johnson supported Indonesian Dictator Suharto, and along with Richard Nixon supported an illegal occupation of Vietnam which included massive human rights abuses and war crimes committed and honored openly. Bill Clinton combined with George H. W. Bush to support an embargo and blockade which prevented Iraqi’s from receiving food and medicines and resulted in the death of over one hundred thousand innocent Iraqi’s including children and elderly, while Hussein remained strongly and richly entrenched in power. We also seem to have forgotten that within the past ten years the U.S. Under the Bush / Cheney regime using lies to Congress invaded three countries and occupied two, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands and included the willful implementation of torture and abuse. Many of those policies and unnecessary deaths and suffering continue under the Barack Obama administration at this very moment. Yet George W. Bush can be often seen at Texas Ranger games. Reagan is often evoked as a true American hero and consummate leader, and Castro is somehow worse than they.
    And of course many right wing mouthpieces will now lump Castro in with the dictators we have supported, and they will add non dictators to the list of dictators to create an additional fantasy world useful only if you don’t check the facts. “To say you respect Fidel Castro,” writes Joe A. Martinez, (The Chairman of the Board of Commissioners of Miami-Dade)“suggests he(Ozzie Guillen.) also respects dictators such as Hugo Chavez, Daniel Ortega, Adolf Hitler and Sadam Hussein.” (Hussein of course was our dictator, before he became our enemy.) Ortega and Chavez are democratically elected, receiving a larger percentage of the eligible voters votes than any recent American president has received. But that doesn’t fit the right wing corporate ideology. In fact Chavez has served the perennially under served poor in Venezuela better than the U.S. backed dictatorial regimes ever had in Venezuela. But then that is the problem. Chavez does not serve U.S. Oil and geo political interests – he serves the interests of Venezuela’s poor. But right wing propagandists always erroneously perpetuate the myth that they are unelected despite the reality. FOX so called news does this all the time. Shaun Hannity is the King of misinformation at FOX. Hannity never lets facts get in the way of ideology.
    Yet Castro despite the facts easily emerges as the bogey man. Why? Because as Ozzie accurately pointed out, he has defied U.S. attempts to murder, or overthrow and has outlived many of his erstwhile critics, like Reagan. In fact many a U.S. Politician has enhanced their reputation, standing and careers with the help of Fidel Castro. Castro has been one of the best political friends many of our politicians could have wished for.
    And yet as accusations fly about Castro’s abuses, those same pundits find it convenient to ignore our own abuses. Or Batista’s abuses. This scenario plays itself out over and over again and the baseball world merely reflects those iniquities. The U.S. is critical of Syria for killing civilians but refuses to look at the civilian death’s at U.S. Hands. (We even cooperated with the Assad regime to torture extraordinarily rendered suspects.) When we do it,(Or Bahrain) it is collateral damage. When Assad (or Ghadaffy)does it and at a far lesser clip it is unacceptable and abuse. The names change, but the pain, death and suffering are very real.
    Apparently the members of the Miami community who are upset( We’re not sure what percentage that actually is but then the truth is not the issue here.) have apparently forgotten the days of Batista which gave rise and power to Fidel Castro. Batista like many in the Batista sphere simply took the money and ran when the going got tough. That crowd and its wealth has since dominated south Florida politics whether they have a legitimate political position or not. Fidel Castro and the embargo have been very very good to them.
    Many have claimed there is no room in baseball for politics – yet the reaction to Guillen’s statement has been nothing but politics.
    Is this an issue of Free speech? Keith Oberman points out that the First Amendment guarantees Congress shall make no law; restricting the freedom of speech and maintains employers have every right to restrict free speech in the work place. Really? While perhaps technically true the fact is that the lynch mob mentality of Guillen’s critics is very Un American in the constitutional aspect while remaining all too true to the American way of dealing with those who wish to take the constitution to its every day application. How dare he? Lynch em!!!!
    Baseball too is different isn’t it Keith? In the midst of the torture and abuse scandal and the illegal NSA surveillance program, Congress took the time it didn’t have to investigate those crimes to investigate performance enhancing drugs in major league baseball. MLB is a Congressionally approved monopoly. In fact MLB comes under a number of Federal jurisdictions from Taft Hartley, to interstate commerce. So how is it that the First Amendment doesn’t apply??
    Well anyway Ozzie has decided to apologize all over himself. Will it pacify the ex Batista ites in the Cuban Miami community?
    Will the mindless pundits of the game of summer continue their tirades and misapplications of reason and logic? Will they continue to think they have some important to say or that their paltry issues matter?
    Of course they will – there’s gold in them thar hills and besides if we didn’t have the distraction of sports people might actually follow the real issues. That could be serious.
    There’s a sucker born everyday.

  27. Pingback: I’m unretired! And the Miami Marlins are weak. « The Blacktooth Files
  28. Jason Knight

    Wow, Why then do people continue to defend Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck, two racist who offend blacks daily.

  29. wordgeezer

    Methinks there is a bit of American exceptionalism going on here. Not to sound like a wiseass, but, like,..I thought that dinosaurs avoided intelligent conversation out of necessity…G:

  30. Lisa

    While what Ozzie said was dumb and insensitive, I can’t believe anyone is taking ANYTHING Ozzie Guillen says so seriously. Judging by his history in Chicago, he’s likely to say just about anything at any time. English is his second language and he really doesn’t speak it as well as he should after living here for so long. He’s always making some ridiculous statement about a totally irrelevant subject. It’s just Ozzie being Ozzie. There’s a reason we call him dizzy in our house.

  31. Page d'accueil

    Lou was honest and admitted he liked the other team’s better. He was simply being honest about it and responding truthfully to a question. Trump saw it as a lack of loyalty. Thank goodness, Trump’s son pointed out that HONESTY is a good quality. We have to be careful not to lose that.

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