x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Those who do not think before they speak find out speech is not free

Ozzie Guillen has found out that the cost speaking one's mind is endless public apologies that may or may not satisfy an enraged fan base.

People demonstrate outside Marlins Park in Miami on April 10, 2012, Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said that he was a fan of Fidel Castro. Guillen was suspended by the team for his comments but that did not stop the public uproar.
People demonstrate outside Marlins Park in Miami on April 10, 2012, Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said that he was a fan of Fidel Castro. Guillen was suspended by the team for his comments but that did not stop the public uproar.

Even Ozzie Guillen, whose brain sometimes lags a step behind his lips, should know better.

The Miami Marlins manager returned Tuesday from a five-game suspension. His offence: praising Fidel Castro.

In any other major-league city, Guillen would not have been tarred and feathered for acknowledging in an interview that he "loves and respects" Cuba's former president.

After all, Castro has drawn expressions of admiration from Jimmy Carter and Colin Powell to Ted Turner and Jesse Jackson.

Yet, as a Miami resident for 12 years, Guillen should have realised how his comment would be received. Nearly two-thirds of the populace in south Florida claim Cuban ancestry, and many endured Castro's brutal regime before fleeing the island nation.

If the punishment seems harsh for a comment that reflected no greater sin than ignorance of history and the sensibilities of your neighbours, well, the Marlins had little choice.

They have a brand to protect.

The paint has barely dried on a splashy new stadium that is the centrepiece of an effort to stir an indifferent fan base.

The player payroll was almost doubled, easily the most substantial bump in baseball, with the importing of pricey free agents.

Completing the Marlins' picture that was shaken up like an Etch-a-Sketch was the hiring of Guillen.

This was partly a cry for media attention, the Marlins knowing full well that the outspoken manager would draw cameras and microphones while occasionally uttering cringeworthy comments.

Still, little could the club have anticipated that before opening day, before the locals got to know him, he would insult them by speaking nice about their public enemy No 1.

(For Guillen's part, his subsequent apologies were profuse and repeated, although weakened by the contention that he was merely commenting on Castro's longevity in power.

It seems there was this Guillen gem, spoken in 2008, about the despot: "I don't admire his philosophy; I admire him.")

Guillen's insensitivity forever links him with the late Marge Schott, the sometimes bizarre owner of the Cincinnati Reds, who was banned for two years from the majors in the mid-1990s after lauding Adolph Hitler for effectively building roads and factories ("He was good at the beginning").

Thus did Hitler officially become an off-limits topic for sports personalities.

So is race, at least in a disparaging manner, as Schott discovered with two prior wrist slaps for using a derogatory term in reference to African-American players.

In 1999, the Atlanta Braves pitcher and equal opportunity offender John Rocker slurred numerous ethnic groups throughout a magazine article and was suspended by the commissioner for a few weeks.

Rocker's rant also managed to squeeze in anti-gay abuse, another no-no in sports, as minor league hockey player Justin Fontaine learnt this season.

His homophobic tweet, intended only for a friend, resulted in a two-game docking.

Ah, Twitter: Rarely does a day end without some knucklehead player batting out a crude sentiment on Twitter that legitimately riles some constituency.

The Steelers' Rashard Mendenhall, in one runaway train of thought, derided celebrations over the death of Osama bin Laden - a valid position, actually, though ill-timed - and second-guessed whether terrorist-piloted planes caused the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on September 11.

The team refrained from penalising him, though a fine or suspension might have been friendlier to his financial security than this: days after signing Mendenhall to a four-year endorsement deal, a sporting goods company dropped him.

To err is human, the adage begins, and Guillen, all in one play, dropped a ground ball, then threw it into the third row.

To forgive is divine, goes the rest of the adage, and much of Marlins Nation has been slow to attain divinity by excusing Guillen.

Slightly more Cuban-Americans in the Miami area view him "extremely unfavourably" than "favourably," says a poll commissioned by ESPN. Three-quarters of respondents found his comments "offensive". More than four of out 10 suggested he should be fired.

Freedom of expression might be a cornerstone of American democracy. But in the sports sphere, where fines and suspensions are a cudgel often wielded, expressing yourself can become anything but free.

 

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