As a baseball fan and card-carrying Cuban-American living in Miami because of Fidel Castro, I have tried to muster anger toward Ozzie Guillen, but have failed.
After all, the colorful and unpredictable new Miami Marlins manager is in trouble solely because of what he said, not because of anything he did.
Even though the First Amendment is not implicated in this Miami brouhaha, given that no governmental action is involved, I hate for someone to be punished for engaging in pure speech.
Guillen fell into a maelstrom of random controversy inadvertently. The 48-year-old Venezuelan-born baseball manager, now a naturalized U.S. citizen, was hanging around in early March at his office in the Marlins’ spring training facility in Jupiter. An experienced writer for Time Magazine named Sean Gregory engaged Guillen in chatter. At one point Guillen “blurted” (Gregory’s verb), “I love Fidel Castro” while “riffing on politics” and engaging in “stream-of-consciousness Ozzie oratory.”
Gregory began his article with the “I love Fidel” quote. His one and one-half page, 912-word article about the Marlins and their new stadium in Little Havana appeared on page 58 of Time’s April 9 issue and was posted online. Gregory described Guillen as being “mouthy,” “unfiltered,” and a “profane, unpredictable clubhouse raconteur.”
Guillen was also quoted as saying, while backpedaling on his use of the verb “love,” "I respect Fidel Castro … You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that mother------ is still here." Additionally, Guillen said that he “respects” Hugo Chavez, the leftist president of Venezuela who is hated by the thousands of Venezuelans living in Miami as much as the Cubans hate Castro.
Predictably the sky fell in on Guillen. In spite of his abject “lost in translation” apology -- “I was thinking in Spanish, and I said it wrong in English” -- the Marlins suspended him without pay for five games.
What makes it even more difficult to forgive Guillen is that he is a recidivist. While he was managing the Chicago White Sox in the fall of 2008, he told Rick Telander of Men’s Journal that the “toughest man” he knew was Fidel Castro. “He’s a bull---- dictator and everybody’s against him, and he still survives, has power. Still has a country behind him. Everywhere he goes they roll out the red carpet. I don’t admire his philosophy. I admire him.”
Nonetheless, while Guillen carelessly uttered comments very offensive to most Marlins’ fans, he does not hold a public office, has not lobbied on behalf of the Castro brothers, has not gone to Cuba to express support for the dictatorship there, and has not engaged in any substantive activity that is beneficial to the Castros or to Chavez. Accordingly, for now I choose to take Guillen at his word when he said at his apology press conference last Tuesday that in reality he “hates” Fidel Castro and “would rather die” than vote for Chavez.
Given his contrite public penance and the extemporaneous circumstances under which he uttered the comments published by Time, Guillen deserves forgiveness and another chance. Of course, if there is a third strike, he will be out.
Angel Castillo, Jr., a former reporter and editor for the New York Times and The Miami Herald, practices employment law in Miami. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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