This is revised and updated from the previous post:
Minutes into his five-game unpaid suspension for having praised Fidel Castro in a community filled with, and animated by, people who think Castro comparable to Hitler, Manager Ozzie Guillen of the Miami Marlins tried to explain that he had hoped to say he was surprised Castro had stayed in power so long, and that someone who had hurt so many over so many years was still alive.
The problem is, it turns out he had made similar remarks about Castro four years ago in which he renounced Castro’s politics and called him a dictator and still ended by saying “I admire him.”
As Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times noted late last night, he interviewed Guillen, the managing the White Sox for a Men’s Journal Q-and-A:
And I asked him this: “Who’s the toughest man you know?’’
His response, which took me by surprise: “Fidel Castro.’’
“He’s a bull—- dictator and everybody’s against him, and he still survives, has power. Still has a country behind him,’’ Ozzie replied. “Everywhere he goes, they roll out the red carpet. I don’t admire his philosophy; I admire him.’’
That’s an added wrinkle, and it suggests the suspension may be insufficient, at least in terms of length. For some context: over a period of six or seven years, Cincinnati Reds’ owner Marge Schott had said something to offend virtually every group except The Visiting Nurse Association. She said Adolf Hitler “was good in the beginning, but went too far.” She had previously made antisemitic remarks, kept some Nazi trophies from her late husband’s service in World War II (not all that uncommon), bashed gays, blacks, Asians, and supposedly wanted to fire her manager Davey Johnson because he was living with his girlfriend. Major League Baseball – as opposed to just the team acting on Guillen – suspended her for two-and-a-half years and eventually applied enough pressure to get her to sell the franchise.
Flash forward to the remarks to Time Magazine for its newest issue:
“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.”
As the impeccable Amy K. Nelson live-tweeted from today’s apology news conference:
“Very embarrassed, very sad. I thought the next time I saw this room with this many people, there would be a World Series trophy next to me.”
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 Guillen’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 – or your -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.”
Not quite. Ozzie is guilty of praising (or admiring, or being astonished at, or being appalled by, depending on when you ask him) Castro’s longevity, in much the same kind of way he would’ve tried to 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.
The question remaining is: Is five games sufficient. A local anti-Castro group said yesterday it planned 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.