The Miami Marlins suspended team manager Ozzie Guillen for five games Tuesday following his comments praising Fidel Castro, the former president of Cuba.
“The Marlins acknowledge the seriousness of the comments attributed to Guillen,” the team said in a statement. “The pain and suffering caused by Fidel Castro cannot be minimized, especially in a community filled with victims of the dictatorship.”
The flap has marred what should be an ebullient time for the Marlins. The professional baseball team’s new stadium in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood was inaugurated last week with a bash featuring celebrities including Muhammad Ali.
The uproar was triggered by a Time magazine article that was posted online last week. “I respect Fidel Castro,” Mr. Guillen was quoted as saying. “You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that mother f— is still here.”
The remarks provoked a sharp response in Miami, where the population is heavily Cuban-American and where anti-Castro sentiment, especially among the older generation of political exiles, is widespread and passionate.
The city’s Spanish-language radio stations were flooded with callers voicing disgust with Mr. Guillen, who was born in Venezuela. Joe Martinez, chairman of the Miami-Dade County Commission, demanded on Monday that Mr. Guillen resign. Later that afternoon, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez issued a statement condemning the remarks, though he stopped short of calling for Mr. Guillen’s resignation.
To try to quell the controversy, Mr. Guillen interrupted a six-game road trip with the team to fly to Miami. On Tuesday morning, shortly after the team announced his suspension—which is effective immediately—he held a news conference at the stadium. He said he felt he had betrayed the Latin American community and apologized for his remarks “with my heart in my hand and on bended knees.”
Mr. Guillen said his comments about Mr. Castro, which he said he made in Spanish, were misinterpreted. The point he had meant to make, he said, was that he couldn’t believe someone who had caused so much harm was “still in power.” Yet Mr. Guillen repeatedly asked for forgiveness, saying he was “very embarrassed” and “very sad.”
The apology didn’t suffice for scores of protesters outside. “He has to go,” said Laura Vianello of the anti-Castro organization Vigilia Mambisa. “The entire Cuban community is outraged at this man.”
Other Cuban-Americans were more measured in their remarks. “Everybody has been upset,” said Andy Gomez, assistant provost at the University of Miami, who is Cuban-American and a Marlins season-ticket holder. But “he’s paying the consequences for such a stupid remark. … Let’s move on and play baseball.”
Mr. Guillen has a reputation for speaking bluntly, and at times intemperately. Last year, he called himself the “Charlie Sheen of baseball, without drugs and a prostitute.” In 2006, when he was manager of the Chicago White Sox, he used a gay slur to refer to a local sports columnist, and later apologized.
In the latest episode, some observers have defended Mr. Guillen’s right to free speech. “Any Cuban who condemns Ozzie Guillen for speaking his mind is just as guilty as Fidel Castro was for killing people who spoke their mind,” wrote one commenter on the Marlins’ Facebook page.
James Weinstein, a law professor at Arizona State University, said that while the First Amendment prohibits government from limiting free speech, “companies have a lot of freedom to set parameters for what they allow their employees to say.”
Posted in: Misc.– April 11, 2012