Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ozzie Guillen

Approval of Mob Rule on Speech Depends on Which Mob is to Rule

It was perhaps predictable that the New York Times editorial page would leap to the defense of embattled Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen. The Times takes a dim view of the Marlins’ decision to suspend their now contrite field boss for telling Time Magazine how much he loved Fidel Castro. Guillen, they believe, is being penalized for exercising his constitutional right to engage in political speech. The paper thinks the team is bowing to the dictates of a “mob,” and rightly note this wouldn’t have happened anywhere else but in South Florida where Cuban-Americans–who have good reason to view any love given Castro as deeply offensive–predominate.

But the question here is neither one of law (the Times concedes the team is within its right to discipline any employee for statements that embarrass the franchise) nor of double standards (because other sports figures have been punished, sometimes far more harshly for saying things that others believe to be offensive). Rather, it is one of which mob is crying for Guillen’s blood. Because the Times and the rest of the liberal media establishment has nothing but contempt for the desire of Cuban-Americans to overthrow the Castro-led Communist dictatorship of their homeland, they are quick to characterize those calling for Guillen’s head as censors. But though the newspaper attempts to draw a distinction between Guillen and others who have been punished for expressing other hateful sentiments, the only thing different here is whose feathers have been ruffled.

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It was perhaps predictable that the New York Times editorial page would leap to the defense of embattled Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen. The Times takes a dim view of the Marlins’ decision to suspend their now contrite field boss for telling Time Magazine how much he loved Fidel Castro. Guillen, they believe, is being penalized for exercising his constitutional right to engage in political speech. The paper thinks the team is bowing to the dictates of a “mob,” and rightly note this wouldn’t have happened anywhere else but in South Florida where Cuban-Americans–who have good reason to view any love given Castro as deeply offensive–predominate.

But the question here is neither one of law (the Times concedes the team is within its right to discipline any employee for statements that embarrass the franchise) nor of double standards (because other sports figures have been punished, sometimes far more harshly for saying things that others believe to be offensive). Rather, it is one of which mob is crying for Guillen’s blood. Because the Times and the rest of the liberal media establishment has nothing but contempt for the desire of Cuban-Americans to overthrow the Castro-led Communist dictatorship of their homeland, they are quick to characterize those calling for Guillen’s head as censors. But though the newspaper attempts to draw a distinction between Guillen and others who have been punished for expressing other hateful sentiments, the only thing different here is whose feathers have been ruffled.

There is, in fact, little difference between Guillen and the case (cited by the Times) of Marge Schott, the equally outrageous former owner of the Cincinnati Reds who was suspended by baseball for expressing praise of Hitler after a long career of uttering slurs against various groups. Like Guillen’s disavowal of any endorsement of Castro’s enormities, Schott claimed her statement, “Hitler was good in the beginning” shouldn’t have been considered signifying her approval of the Holocaust. When baseball suspended Schott they weren’t violating her right of free speech anymore than the Marlins violated Guillen’s rights. They were free to say what they liked, but the terms of their employment were such that their employers were under no obligation to countenance associating baseball with hateful sentiments.

As I noted earlier this week, I think ending Guillen’s career for his comments, much as baseball terminated the life’s work of Dodgers executive Al Campanis for a maladroit answer about African-Americans in 1982, would be unfair. The Times’ disapproval of the Marlins’ somewhat lenient punishment of their manager has nothing to do with principle or the free exercise of political speech. It has everything to do with the politics of what he said. The Times has no problem condemning comments about race or gender, and it is an advocate of severe restrictions on political speech in the form of campaign contributions. What it has no patience for is intolerance of those, like Guillen, who regard Communist murderers with affection. It is that lamentable but all too prevalent point of view these days that is truly regrettable.

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Is it Okay to Love a Murdering Dictator?

Miami Marlins Manager Ozzie Guillen will be using his day off to fly back to Florida today to hold a news conference tomorrow to make a public apology for his published remarks in which he spoke of his “love” for longtime Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. While the famously loquacious and largely unrestrained Guillen is entitled to his opinion, the fact that the institution that employs him understands that a public mea culpa is necessary illustrates that at least in southern Florida, expressing affection for a Communist murderer is not deemed acceptable behavior.

Guillen, a native of Venezuela who stirred up a much smaller controversy when he previously spoke of his admiration for that country’s authoritarian leader Hugo Chavez, has a reputation for shooting off his mouth about just about anything rather than being a political activist. Though Cuban-Americans are rightly up in arms about what he said and any hint of a boycott of the Marlins game would be disastrous for a franchise desperate to attract fans to their new ballpark, it is likely that Guillen will survive this mess. But what is interesting about this kerfuffle is the fact that it may be one of the last gasps of an effort to hold the Havana regime in opprobrium despite the efforts of many liberals (and the Obama administration) to lower the volume of protests about human rights in Cuba.

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Miami Marlins Manager Ozzie Guillen will be using his day off to fly back to Florida today to hold a news conference tomorrow to make a public apology for his published remarks in which he spoke of his “love” for longtime Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. While the famously loquacious and largely unrestrained Guillen is entitled to his opinion, the fact that the institution that employs him understands that a public mea culpa is necessary illustrates that at least in southern Florida, expressing affection for a Communist murderer is not deemed acceptable behavior.

Guillen, a native of Venezuela who stirred up a much smaller controversy when he previously spoke of his admiration for that country’s authoritarian leader Hugo Chavez, has a reputation for shooting off his mouth about just about anything rather than being a political activist. Though Cuban-Americans are rightly up in arms about what he said and any hint of a boycott of the Marlins game would be disastrous for a franchise desperate to attract fans to their new ballpark, it is likely that Guillen will survive this mess. But what is interesting about this kerfuffle is the fact that it may be one of the last gasps of an effort to hold the Havana regime in opprobrium despite the efforts of many liberals (and the Obama administration) to lower the volume of protests about human rights in Cuba.

Guillen is far from the only person who has given Castro some love lately. Hollywood leftists such as Sean Penn and Oliver Stone have lauded the Cuban regime and even mainstream media stars like Andrea Mitchell have bought into Michael Moore’s lies about the Communist regime’s health care system being better than that of the United States. For many liberals, focusing on Cuba’s lack of political freedom is an unwelcome throwback to the Cold War. The plight of Cubans who lack basic human rights and live in squalor largely due to their government’s Stalinist ideology means little to most Americans who have come to view the cause of Cuban freedom with indifference if not distaste. There’s little doubt that had Guillen stayed with the Chicago White Sox or gone to some other team without a potent Cuban-American constituency, he would not be on the hot seat on which he currently finds himself.

That alone is a reason to think that firing would be unfair even if it is difficult to sympathize with him. He is fortunate to have expressed sympathy for a mere Communist murderer rather than to have uttered anything that could be construed as racist. This is, after all, the 30th anniversary of the interview on ABC’s “Nightline” program in which Los Angeles Dodgers General Manager Al Campanis lost his job when he claimed African-Americans lacked the “necessities” to be baseball managers and executives. Though Campanis had earned far more goodwill in a long career of racial fair dealing than the obnoxious Guillen has ever done (Guillen dodged a similar bullet earlier in his career for uttering an anti-gay slur), his career vanished in an instant with one foolish and wrongheaded remark.

Those who cry for Guillen’s head will probably be disappointed, and that’s not an entirely bad thing. The practice of making celebrities walk the plank for saying the wrong thing in the wrong place for things for which they might otherwise get a pass for under other circumstances is not a particularly attractive aspect of American popular culture. But while I’m not sorry to see Guillen forced to apologize for his “love” for Castro, no one should be under the misapprehension that a sea change on attitudes toward the Cuban regime has not already happened. It is that willingness to appease the tyrants of Havana that we should be regretting more than a stupid comment by an overly talkative baseball manager.

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