Ordinarily, Miami Marlins’ manager Ozzie Guillen revels in controversies.   His edgy outspokenness has easily made him one of baseball’s most interesting but sometimes most polarizing figures.

Of course had he not won a World Series with the Chicago White Sox a few years back, he’d probably be considered just another loudmouth baseball blowhard.  That’s just how fine the line is when you speak your mind and sometimes offend.  The lesson is if you’re going to be offensive at least have a few trophies and rings to cover for your ignorance or poor choice of words.  Guillen’s success as a manager provided him with plenty of cover – in the past.

Ozzie Guillen

But this time, Ozzie Guillen really stepped in it in South Florida.  During a recent interview, Guillen foolishly expressed admiration for the repugnant, anti-American dictator, Fidel Castro.  Why would Guillen say such a thing?  Was he naïve, or just stupid?

Surely he should have known better than to say something that would inflame the justifiably sensitive and politically powerful Cuban-American community of Miami, many of whom were refugees, or whose parents and other relatives risked their lives to flee Castro’s repressive communist regime.

How could Guillen say anything that sounds even remotely supportive of one of America’s foremost political enemies?  But say it he did.  And he’ll have to live with it.

Well, on Tuesday in front of Miami media and interested parties around the nation, Guillen, who had already learned he would be suspended by the Marlins five games, said he was misunderstood.  He claimed that when he was being interviewed by a reporter he was thinking in Spanish but speaking in English which he said caused him to misspeak.  Not sure I’m buying it, but that’s his story and he’s sticking to it.

That said, while explaining how he said what he said, he in fact did provide what seemed like a legitimate, heartfelt apology to Cuban-Americans in particular and to the Miami community in general.  Guillen who was born in Venezuela, also indicated that he too is appalled by the elderly Cuban leader’s brutal leadership.

Nonetheless I am discomfited by what happened in South Florida. Yes, I think it is inappropriate in any way to salute Castro, whose revolution 50 years ago still reverberates negatively today.

But I am also uneasy with the demand for Guillen to apologize or be fired for simply being ignorant.  And I am bothered by the cursory suspension levied by the Marlins, done in part for PR and financial reasons to placate a fan base that might not turn out to see games in the sparkling new stadium.  Further, I don’t like the piling on by Major League Baseball, which felt the need to also condemn Guillen’s remarks, and endorse his suspension.

I feel like free speech and political correctness collided in Miami in the most unseemly of ways. It forced Ozzie Guillen, who is now an American citizen, to figuratively fall to his knees begging for understanding and forgiveness and ultimately, his job.

It also caused the ordinarily savvy Cuban-American community to over-react to a man whose primary sin in this case was his stupidity and insensitivity.

I am glad though that the Marlins, which meted out their community inspired punishment, said that the five games Guillen will be suspended will be enough of a penalty and that they support him as the team’s manager going forward.

And I am hoping that when Guillen comes back, he’ll be much smarter, appropriately chastened, and the issue will be closed.  I also hope he will one day be forgiven for his moment of ignorance.

 

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