For sports fans, sports offers an escape from reality. Fans follow their favorite teams and players and devote countless hours and millions of dollars to supporting them. Sports stars are celebrities and every word they say is magnified and repeated. Although sports celebrities have the same First Amendment rights that we all have, the smart ones are very careful about how they exercise their rights of free speech. And then, there is Ozzie Guillen.
Guillen was recently given a four-year, $10 million contract to be manager of the Miami Marlins. Notice, they are called the Miami not the Florida Marlins. That is because the team owners made a business decision to move the team to the “Little Havana” neighborhood in Miami where they have a brand new $515 million stadium to play in. The location of the stadium and even the choice of Guillen as manager were all calculated to cultivate the Cuban-American community as their fan base.
With that as context, it is beyond comprehension why Guillen, in a recent interview for Time Magazine, was quoted saying “I love Fidel Castro.” It’s important to understand that, for Cuban Americans, Fidel Castro is about the worst human being that ever lived. Many of them left Cuba, or are the children and grandchildren of people who left Cuba because they disagreed with, or were threatened by Castro. So, if you think about it, saying “I love Fidel Castro” is the worst thing Guillen could have possibly said.
However, controversial comments are nothing new for Guillen. He has raised anger for gay rights activists, illegal immigration opponents and Venezuelans in the past. Throughout his career, he has made these highly questionable remarks, but never of this magnitude.
It is true that Guillen apologized, but even that didn’t make sense. He said he was thinking in Spanish while he was speaking English. Really? So what could he have been thinking in Spanish that would have come out this way?
Guillen is entitled to his opinion. He is entitled to say whatever he wants. He is even entitled to be stupid. But as the manager of a
Major League Baseball team, he is not entitled to do something that could potentially cost the team millions of dollars in lost fan support. Baseball, just like all professional sports, is a business, and Guillen turned himself from an asset into a liability.
The Marlins have suspended Guillen for five games. We will see if this satisfies the angry Marlin fans enough to fill that new stadium, and buy Marlins merchandise.
All coaches, managers and players should see this as a cautionary tale. If you want to be a sports celebrity - stick to what you know and leave the politics to others.
Even Guillen himself agreed to the statement when he later said that he took it a step too far and was quoted saying, “I am a sport man and a sport man should not be involved in politics.”