When Ozzie Guillen took over the reins as manager of the new-look Miami Marlins after spending eight seasons with the Chicago White Sox, many people thought that he would be a perfect fit, considering his Latin background in a city well known for its diverse community and deep ties to Cuba.
Now, many people are calling for Guillen to get out of town.
In a press conference on Tuesday morning at Marlins Park just minutes after being suspended for five games by the Marlins, Guillen apologized for remarks he made regarding Cuban dictator Fidel Castro during an interview with Time magazine that was published last week.
In the interview, Guillen said that he loved Castro and respected him for being able to stay in power:
I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but (he) is still there.
As soon as the article was published, the backlash began, and rightfully so.
Latin organizations called on the Marlins to immediately fire Guillen for his completely thoughtless comments, and at least one Cuban-American advocacy group, Vigilia Mambisa, stated that they would boycott Marlins games and stage protests at Marlins Park until Guillen was terminated.
At his press conference, Guillen apologized profusely many times, saying that what he intended to say didn’t come out the right way.
“The interpretation didn’t come out as I wanted,” Guillen said in Spanish. “I was thinking in Spanish and I said the wrong thing in English.”
Here’s the problem I have with Guillen’s explanation of what he said. First of all, it’s not the first time he has expressed admiration for Castro. In an interview with Men's Journal in October 2008, Guillen called Castro the toughest man he’s ever known:
Fidel Castro. He’s a BS 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.
So, in two separate incidences, Guillen has both admired and respected Castro. This time, he said it while representing the team in a community where Cuban-Americans have settled after escaping from the oppressive Castro regime.
Guillen went on to say during his press conference that he felt like he betrayed the Latin community with his words:
I feel like I betrayed my Latin community. I am here to say I am sorry with my heart in my hands and I want to say I’m sorry to all those people who are hurt indirectly or directly.
I’m sorry for what I said and for putting people in a position they don’t need to be in. And for all the Cuban families, I’m sorry. I hope that when I get out of here, they will understand who Ozzie Guillen is. How I feel for them. And how I feel about the Fidel Castro dictatorship. I’m here to face you, person to person. It’s going to be a very difficult time for me.
Guillen can apologize all he wants and will likely be apologizing many more times in the future. His words, however, can never be taken back, and they left an indelible sting in the hearts of Cuban-Americans throughout the country that have sought to put their past behind them.
I lived in South Florida for 10 years and worked in Miami for several of those years. Having met and befriended several members of the Latin community, including Cuban-Americans, I have very fond memories of those relationships and always admired their incredible fortitude and will to live after having lived in such harsh conditions that have existed ever since Castro took power.
Guillen’s words were not just an affront; they were words that attacked the very existence of their lives and what they stand for.
The Marlins stepped in and announced the suspension of Guillen on Tuesday, a five-game ban that won’t see Guillen return to the field until April 17, barring rainouts. However, five games isn’t anywhere near enough for a man who has shown a history of statements that have enraged communities and ethnic groups.
Hall of Fame manager Casey Stengel became famous for his “Stengelisms,” and he could always be counted on for great fodder in newspaper print. But at no time did Stengel ever completely enrage a community with disparaging remarks in the way that Guillen has.
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.
Nice words, Bud. But why didn’t you condemn Guillen’s comments four years ago in his interview with Men's Journal? And why didn’t MLB immediately step up and deal with Guillen’s current comments?
In today’s world of social media, a statement of any kind can go viral within minutes, and Guillen’s thoughtless comments certainly did just that. Yet MLB did absolutely nothing. For a sport that has spouted about an intolerance for social injustices, it had every right to step up and deal immediately with Guillen, yet they did nothing while Guillen’s statements traveled across the Internet for days.
It’s high time that examples start being set, starting with Guillen. A five-game suspension isn’t anywhere near enough for a man who continuously makes vitriolic statements without thinking about their ramifications. Guillen should be run out of Miami on a rail.
If MLB really feels that remarks like Guillen’s have no place in the game, then Guillen shouldn’t have a place in the game either.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle. Follow Doug on Twitter @Sports_A_Holic.