First, let me get this out of the way: as a Mets fan, I have to admit that I love to see when another franchise in the NL East is embroiled in a public relations nightmare. Especially when one of those teams, the Miami Marlins, signed away your franchise shortstop in free agency this past offseason.
So when a media firestorm resulted when new Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen was quoted in Time Magazine as saying, “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”, I couldn’t help but think that some sort of karma was coming around and the baseball gods were exacting divine retribution upon the team and its new, grandiose, lime green walled ballpark with its assault on the eyes home run feature down in Little Havana.
But the Marlins were right in suspending Ozzie Guillen for five games. Firing Guillen outright would have been premature and excessive; not doing anything would have made matters worse. The First Amendment protects your speech from being silenced or penalized by the government. But it doesn’t protect your right from being suspended from work by a private employer, especially since said private employer has a huge Cuban-American fanbase that was offended by Guillen’s remarks. Guillen was representing the Marlins in public, and as manager, is expected to conduct himself in a professional manner befitting of the organization. He did not live up to this standard.
I also have to note that there is a clear difference between love and respect. For example, during World War II, many Allied generals had tremendous respect for General Rommel for his tenacity and strategic genius. American soldiers in Vietnam developed a grudging respect for the Vietcong and their fighting ability. However, to love means to support, and Guillen crossed that line. If Guillen had simply said that he respected Castro and left it at that, I wouldn’t think that the situation would have happened this way, if at all.
Commissioner Bud Selig issued the following statement as a result of the controversy and the action taken by the Marlins:
“Major League Baseball supports today’s decision by the Marlins to suspend Ozzie Guillen. As I have often said, Baseball is a social institution with important social responsibilities. All of our 30 Clubs play significant roles within their local communities, and I expect those who represent Major League Baseball to act with the kind of respect and sensitivity that the game’s many cultures deserve. Mr. Guillen’s remarks, which were offensive to an important part of the Miami community and others throughout the world, have no place in our game.”
Ordinarily, this statement would have been the perfect press release from anyone. Except Bud Selig. The commissioner back in 1999 traveled to Cuba to see the Baltimore Orioles play the Cuban National Team. He was a distinguished guest of none other than Fidel Castro, and even sat next to Castro along with Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos at the ballgame. Hypocritical, to say the least.