Guillen gets 5-game suspension for comments on Castro, Chavez

Lesson #1 for high-profile entertainment and sports figures in Florida: Don’t run around praising Fidel Castro on any basis whatsoever.  The Florida Marlins have socked manager Ozzie Guillen with a five-game suspension for his remarks praising Castro and Hugo Chavez for their longevity in power, if nothing else (via Twitchy):

Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen was suspended for five games Tuesday because of his comments about Fidel Castro.

The suspension by the team takes effect immediately. It was announced shortly before Guillen was to hold a news conference to explain his remarks, which caused a public backlash.

Guillen told Time magazine he loves Castro and respects the retired Cuban leader for staying in power so long. At least two local officials said Guillen should lose his job.

There is a certain symmetry to this, as the AP notes, since Guillen has only managed the Marlins for … five games.  Guillen flew home to apologize yesterday for his comments, which CNN analyzed this morning:

Perhaps Guillen hasn’t become acclimated yet to Florida’s political climate, and thinks he’s still in Chicago.  However, it’s good to recall that Guillen became the darling last year of practically everyone he offended this year by attacking Sean Penn for his support of, er, Hugo Chavez:

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen continues to be annoyed with Sean Penn, over the actor’s continued defense of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.

Yahoo Sports reported the feud goes all the way back to March. Penn had appeared on “Real Time with Bill Maher” and criticized the use of the word “dictator” to describe Chavez, Yahoo reported.

In response, Guillen issued the following tweet: “Sean Penn defended Chavez is easy when you have money, and no leave in out country. Shame on you, Mr. Penn.”

I have a sneaking suspicion that Guillen’s views on the topics of Castro and Chavez are significantly more nuanced than the coverage of his latest remarks has allowed.  On the other hand … maybe not:

Judge for youself. Here is the Guillen quote that made its way to the Internet: “I love Fidel Castro … I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last sixty years but that [expletive] is still there.”

The one thing Guillen got right is this: Castro is an “expletive.” Other than that, this is the dumbest paragraph uttered by a major-league manager in the history of paragraphs and managers.

Yeah, it’s a pretty stupid thing to say anywhere, but especially in Miami.  Guillen has a right to say it, but do the Marlins have a right to punish him in response?  My friend from across the aisle Michael Stickings (who is absolutely no fan of Chavez and regularly criticizes the Left for soft-peddling his dictatorship) thinks this is arguably an infringement of Guillen’s right to free speech:

But here we have a different, more nuanced situation: Guillen de facto works for a quasi-public entity. Major league baseball is exempt from certain laws with respect to monopoly practices, and under those auspices, receive political scrutiny far beyond what any other industry would get.

How else do you explain Congress getting involved in a drug scandal?

In this capacity and as a public figure, Guillen has influence beyond the domain of his clubhouse.

Generally, sports figures stay away from politics. It’s bad for contract negotiations, which is also why you see players setting up charities for kids with cancer or who are poor. And remember, Cassius Clay spent time in jail after he changed his name to Muhammad Ali and refused the draft for Vietnam as a conscietious objector.

It has happened, however, where ballplayers have gotten involved in making political statements and paid no price: in the 1960s, black players would express support for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Some ballplayers even protested the Vietnam War (Tom Seaver, one of the greatest pitchers ever, springs to mind).

Hell, Castro was scouted for baseball when he was a kid!

Guillen should pay no price, either. He’s apologized, but I don’t think he needed to. If Guillen is to pay a price, if we are to clearly remove politics from sports (which might not be a bad thing, but right now, is not a necessary thing), then Tim Thomas should be forced to remove his helmet while playing for the Boston Bruins. He paid no official price for refusing to meet with President Obama, either. If Guillen is punished, then so should Tim Thomas.

I’d argue that sports teams have the right to determine whether either or both damaged the their enterprise by speaking out, and that the two teams can make different determinations as to whether punishment is appropriate.  I don’t buy the idea that MLB is “quasi-public” because of its antitrust exemption, either, but even if it was, free speech does not mean freedom from the consequences of speech.  Other than the contractual obligations both Guillen and the Marlins freely engaged, the team has no requirement to keep employing him as the manager, and no requirement to stand silent when he creates a situation that damages their brand.

However, in my opinion, a five-game suspension is an overreaction.  Guillen said something stupid in an interview — he didn’t order a player beaned or shove an umpire.  A fine would have been more appropriate in this case, along with an admonition borrowed in spirit from Laura Ingraham: shut up and play.

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