Were The Marlins Right To Suspend Ozzie Guillen for Loving Fidel Castro?

And imagine...Media Matters had NOTHING to do with it!

‘”I love Fidel Castro,’ blurts Ozzie Guillen, the new manager of the Miami Marlins, in his Jupiter, Fla., spring-training office before an early-March team workout.”

And with that spontaneous utterance, quoted in a Time magazine feature, Guillen, who was hired during baseball’s off-season to lead the long-languishing Miami baseball franchise to elusive community popularity and on-the-field success, suddenly found himself at the epicenter of a career-threatening controversy. Cuban groups in the Miami area were horrified, and demanded that Guillen be fired. Guillen immediately went on an apology tour, arguing that he had “mistranslated in his head from Spanish to English,” and that he emphatically did not “love” the Cuban dictator, but in fact hated him. Even though he said he loved him. That’s some bad translating.

“I feel like I betrayed my Latin community,” Guillen said to one Miami group, according to ESPN’s translation of his comments in Spanish. “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.”

He got that right. Today the Marlins suspended their manager for five games, saying in a statement,

“The Marlins acknowledge the seriousness of the comments attributed to Guillen. The pain and suffering caused by Fidel Castro cannot be minimized especially in a community filled with victims of the dictatorship.”

My friends over at Fark headlined this story thusly: “Miami Marlins fail to realize that the cold war ended decades ago. Suspend Ozzie Guillen for pro-Castro remarks. Guess the Marlins support the brutal military dictatorship of Batista and old system of racial serfdom instead.” Fark goes out of its way to be politically incorrect, so anything they say should be taken with generous shovels of salt; nonetheless, Fark’s comment this time isn’t funny enough to justify its studied cluelessness. The end of the Cold War didn’t suddenly render Castro’s half-century of oppression meaningless and acceptible. There is a large community of Cuban refugees in Miami, many of whom had to flee the island leaving their families behind.  “He is our Hitler,” one Cuban commentator said to explain the impact of Guillen’s remarks. Saying “I love Castro!” in Miami is like saying “I love William Tecumseh Sherman!” in Atlanta, “I love George Wallace!” in Harlem,  ” I love Bin Laden!” in Manhattan, or “I love Bucky Dent!” in Boston. The closest recent incident was when Gilbert Gottfried, the comic who was then employed as the original voice of the Aflac duck, issued a series of tasteless jokes on his Twitter feed about the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. Japan is one of Aflac’s largest markets—Gottfried was promptly fired. Ozzie is lucky to still have his job.

Battista, Castro’s brutal predecessor, is completely irrelevant: “I love Battista!” would have been equally offensive, but less damaging since most people don’t remember Battista, who had been dead for over 60 years. The Marlins action in suspending Guillen wasn’t just fair but necessary, a matter of survival. The man they had hired to be the face of their franchise as part of a multi-million dollar public relations effort that includes a new ball park and pricey new players just viscerally insulted their target market. The team had to repudiate his comments; it had to discipline Ozzie. The only question is whether this was enough.

I, for one, hope so. Ozzie Guillen has a big mouth, and is accustomed to sticking both feet in it, but he is a genuine character, a fiery, exciting manager, and by most reports, a good guy. It would be unfortunate for him to have permanently soured his new city on his team and his management with four stupid words, but he might have done it. Only time will tell.

The lesson of this sad, completely unnecessary episode is that when an employee alienates his employer’s market and threatens its business viability because of reckless words or deeds, the employer has every right to take action against that employee. It has nothing to do with political correctness or freedom of speech. It is unethical to harm an employer by not recognizing that you have a duty not to embarrass the organization, or make customers wonder about the organization’s competence and judgment to hire a jerk like you in such a prominent position. That’s what Ozzie did.

30 thoughts on “Were The Marlins Right To Suspend Ozzie Guillen for Loving Fidel Castro?

  1. I have a huge problem with this issue. The main thing being that it was taken out of context. Guillen’s full statement continued to say, “A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that (expletive) is still here.”

    Now his word choice may have been poor but that doesn’t change the overall sentiment–he is amazed at his resilience. I think this whole thing is overblown and echoes other recent “news” stories whether it be Limbaugh’s choice of words or Maher’s rantings. Everybody just needs to lighten up a bit.

    • I think it’s clearly distinguishable from Limbaugh and Maher. If Dodger fans tried get Ozzie fired, then it would resemble the Limbaugh-Fluke mess.

      You can’t spin “I love Fidel Castro,” and while one can admire the old dictator for his resilience, you still can’t say that for public consumption if your audience is strongly Cuban. Simple as that. There are reasons to admire Nikita Khrushchev, but don’t say that to a Hungarian. It’s not the words per se, but the irresponsibility of mot respecting your audience and market.

      • I still feel there are too many issues with the way this is has exploded. The media is selectively pulling only those four words, “I love FC” and leaving out the rest. Not to mention this was originally said in Spanish. It would be nice to see a responsible journalit that reports exactly what was said. But I have been unable to find anything on the web.

        • Ozzie doesn’t dispute the quote, Gregory. In this context, it doesn’t matter whether Ozzie meant Fidel’s politics, tenacity, fashion sense or choice of cigars. Marge Schott got suspended from running her own team for saying that “Hitler did some good things.” Hitler admiration–for anything—is a PR nightmare, and “I heart Fidel” in Miami’s Little Havana, where the new Marlins park is, is just as bad.

          • So if I say, “I love Hitler, once that asshole was six feet underground” it is okay for someone to only focus on the first three words of my statement?

            • Awful analogy. That statement immediately places the “love” in context: “I love it that Hitler’s dead.” Ozzie said he admired and respected Castro. To those whose families were trapped and enslaved on the island, anyone who respects and admires Castro for any reason is an anathema. As one writer put it, Guillen picked the one community in the nation where such a comment would be intolerable. That’s his gaffe, his stupidity, his responsibility.

              • So you accept my original argument that context matters. Guillen also called Castro a “mother fucker” in the same breath but I don’t see that getting any attention. Why? Because his quote was manipulated by the author. Poor journalism, specifically Sean Gregory, is to blame for this.

                If you go to the website he manipulated what Guillen said such that you don’t get to read the rest of the quote unless you are a paid subscriber.

                Additionally, the full quote is not for another two paragraphs. Gregory manipulated what Guillen said such that the reader interprets it in a very specific way. Later Gregory writes, “after a second of reflection…he wants a do-over.” But that clause is far removed from the opening quote.

                Guillen is a native Venezuelan with English as a second language. He didn’t say “strike that” during the interview. But he realized immediately that his word choice was wrong and tried to correct it. Gregory wasn’t fair in his characterization of the incident. That is the true ethical blunder.

                • Still an awful anlogy. In the post, which I read in its entirely, Guillen makes it clear that he respects and admires Castro—it doesn’t matter for what, as far as the Marlins are concerned. The context that matters is that he works for an organization that depends on the Cuban-American community. Ozzie speaks English just fine; he knew he was talking to a reporter; he’s gotten in trouble doing this before. He shouldn’t have said anything about Castro. He knows what journalists will do with provocative quotes.

                  Ozzie is 100% accountable.

                  • Strange that you can take NBC to task for editing the Zimmerman tape and call that “intentional news media misrepresentation and tape doctoring, in the middle of a racially charged incident” and not see any parallels with the journalist in this case.

                    • Really? Is this your bad analogy day? He said “I love Fidel Casto.” He admits it. The NBC editor would have taken the quote “I love cheese doodles, and I’d love to stuff them up the nose of that monster Fidel Castro, : and edit it so it came out, I love…Fidel Castro.” Ozzie edited himself. If he had said, “Believe me, I’d never say, “I love Castro”, then you’d have a point.

                    • Why didn’t Gregory headline his story with “Guillen calls Castro a ‘mother fucker'”? That would have riled up the Cubans in support of him. He intentionally buried that part of the quote behind a pay-gate where very few will ever see it.

                      The fact that you can’t see any harm done by the author is deeply troubling. Especially for an ethics blog.

                • I’m with gregory on this one. This is the PC police. Maybe you don’t realize it because it’s not coming from the left. Guillen’s intent was clear and it wasn’t inappropriate in the slightest.

                  • Pathetic, tgt, I must say. You can’t be that business ethics/workplace ethics clueless….back up and think.

                    Guillen, as an employee of the Marlins, has a duty to be sensitive to the kind of comments that will alienate the Marlins market, AND REFRAIN FROM MAKING THEM–the fact that they can be rationally explained or theoretically justified is irrelevant. He betrayed the trust of his employers, get it? His comments jeopardize their business, capiche? “It wasn’t inappropriate in the slightest”—my god, perhaps the most obtuse statement I’ve ever read by you. If it was appropriate, it wouldn’t be threatening to cost the Marlins millions in lost fans and revenue, now would it? If YOU and non-Cuban Americans are the only ones who don’t see it as inappropriate, then its inappropriate.

                    This is a no-brainer. The Marlins had to suspend him.

                    • I stand by my statement. The comment itself wasn’t inappropriate. It was the (intentionaly) misrepresentation of the comment that caused problems.

                      Yes, after the backlash, in made good busines sense for the Marlins to suspend Guillen, but that was for expediancy, not actual bad behavior. The Marlins were unwilling to be ethics heroes, explain the statement, and try to damp down the unwarrented (but understandable) furor.

                      You seem to think that if person B twists the words of person A, then it’s person A’s fault. I reject that. Applying the same logic you use in this post, the government should punish Solicitor General Verrilli because he took a sip of water and paused briefly, giving unscrupulous hacks the ability to pretend something else occurred.

  2. I’ve been seeing a lot of arguments about this being a free speech issue and I don’t see it that way. He was hired to appeal to a certain audience and he then went and alienated that specific audience.

    It would be as if the Giants had hired a manager to appeal to LGBT community of San Francisco and in his first major interview he expressed admiration for Dan White, the man who murdered Harvey Milk.

  3. I also hope Guillen’s suspension is enough discipline for him and for his gaffe. There are honesty and loyalty issues in this case – not identical to those relevant to Donald Trump’s “firing” of celebrity apprentice Lou Ferrigno, but perhaps similar. Being a baseball fan, out of “love” for the game and for all its colorful characters, I hope “Ozzie’s Boner” will lead to reconciliation between Guillen and his team’s community, and to his correction as he may need for any personal recklessness.”

    One would have to be truly paranoid to suspect Guillen is a “plant” in Miami merely for the sake of antagonizing Cuban expatriates. Much more credible is the possibility that it was simply once again, Ozzie being Ozzie – recklessly blunt at times. Trying to think of similarly “big-mouthed” MLB managers, for the moment I am just blank – cannot remember one who said something that offended his team’s locals or who even commented on some foreign regime. Maybe a couple of managers of visiting teams have notably disparaged the home team’s fans – again, I’m blank.

    I sympathize with gregory’s point, too, about Guillen being “Zimmerman-ized a la NBC.” It’s so easy to blurt out a statement that is one part sarcastic and another part sincere, and thus be annoyingly cryptic even if not specifically offensive to a wide audience: “I love Mitt Romney; if only Ann Richards knew: He’s got TWO silver feet in his mouth!” Similarly, I can imagine Guillen idly and recklessly articulating his thoughts on Castro’s longevity in power.

    Oh Gosh, I am so overdue for my annual watching of Ken Burns’ “Baseball” project.

  4. Nothing to do with “free speech”? I agree. The 1st Amendment puts the brakes on governmental entities, not on private entities like a sports team or AFLAC. They may set their own rules for acceptable behavior or speech, or writings. So whether you agree with the baseball team’s reasons or not, it was within its right to fire or suspend the man.

    And we all have a right to bad-mouth the team management.

    Rule of thumb: the right to free speech has NEVER included a right to be free from criticism.

  5. Gregory, as you have done before, you intentionally misinterpret what I wrote. I’m not writing about the reporter. He didn’t distort Ozzie’s words—Ozzie said them. Did he hype the story at the risk of putting Ozzie in jeopardy? Sure he did, and it’s unfair, but standard practice, and I could write 24 hours a day about how unethical journalists are. This particular example is too far down the list.

    I wrote about Ozzie, his culpability, his irresponsible conduct. None of your mitigations change what he said, and that it was irresponsible to say it. Or as a Sports Illustrated writer posted today:

    “I love Fidel Castro” is such an awful thing to say that Guillen could not possibly have meant it. And I’m sure he didn’t mean it the way it sounds. His next sentence was “A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that (expletive) is still here.” In other words: He does not love Castro’s policies or tactics. He is amazed at his resilience.

    Now that we realize that, I think we can agree … it was still a monumentally stupid thing to say.”

    And when you know the club is paying you millions of dollars to be the face of the franchise to Cuban Americans, stupid isn’t good enough. Stupid is a firing offense. Ozzie is lucky.

    • [The reporter] didn’t distort Ozzie’s words—Ozzie said them.

      Yes, Ozzie said the words. But the reporter also distorted them. By your logic, it’s not a distortion to say that Jack Marshall wrote “I love Fidel Castro”. You said those words! So what that you were quoting them (so what that in context they mean something completely different), you said them!

      Guillen also immediately realized that those words could be taken out of context and sought to clear his intentions. Guillen was blameless until he started apologizing. That’s when he screwed up.

      • That’s obviously a bad comparison. Ozzie said the words, and wasn’t quoting anyone, he meant to say them. He has a history of praising dictators—he’s also expressed degrees of admiration for Chavez. As the Washington Posts said in editorial today, Castro doesn’t even deserve respect for staying in power.

        This is simple cognitive dissonance at work, tgt. Ozzie was maybe a plus 8 on the Cuban Americans value scale, but Castro is a negative 6,256. When Ozzie expressed any positive feelings to the Giant Negative whatsoever, he fell far into negative territory himself. If the team didn’t in some way signal a rejection of Ozzie, they would have fallen with him. Again, they had no choice.

        • That’s obviously a bad comparison. Ozzie said the words, and wasn’t quoting anyone, he meant to say them.

          And back through the Rabbit hole we go. Yes Ozzie meant to say the words, but they were misrepresented to mean something else. Yes, you meant to type those words, but they were misrepresented to mean something else. Improperly using a quote is no worse than improperly using other words, it’s just obvious to even braindead people.

          How about I go back to the My Cousin Vinny reference instead. Ralph Macchio’s character did say “I shot the clerk,” but it was a blatant misrepresentation to claim that he was saying that he actually did shoot the clerk.

          [Ozzie] has a history of praising dictators—he’s also expressed degrees of admiration for Chavez. As the Washington Posts said in editorial today, Castro doesn’t even deserve respect for staying in power.

          Sentence one seems to go in Ozzie’s favor in this fight (though against him generally). Sentence 2 I don’t understand. Why not?

          If the team didn’t in some way signal a rejection of Ozzie, they would have fallen with him. Again, they had no choice.

          Like I said, they placed expediency over accurately assigning responsibility. It wasn’t worth it to them to try to correct the record and deal with the backlash. It was easier to punish an innocent. Good business decision. Not so good ethics decision.

          • All the ethics burden is on Ozzie. It’s his obligation not to cause business crises with core markets by his own recklessness. That’s his job. The Marlins have no ethical obligation to protect a high-paid, visible employee who made a statement that he should have known would harm his employers, in a context—talking to a journalist—where he could not control how it would be presented.

            I think you’re being uncharacteristically stubborn.

            And he meant “I love Castro.” Later he explained the extent of his love and reasons for it—doesn’t matter—not with the Marlin’s core audience. Two members of Congress have also expressed admiration for Castro. If they uttered those words and represented Little Havana, the Democratic Party would drop them—and rightfully so.

            • You’re claiming it was reckless to make a reasonable comment to a journalist. I guess I’m less cynical than you.

              As for the political example, that’s a little different. The party’s expectation would be attack ads that pull the statement out of context. The same thing doesn’t occur for Baseball managers.

              It seems to me that you’re claiming that it’s right for the Marlins to pander to their audience, no matter what is generally considered right. I can’t agree with that, but as I said, I do understand why they would do it.

  6. I am a college student currently taking a business ethics class. I simply cannot believe some of the reasoning in a couple of the arguments here. Bottom line is Ozzie made those comments!!!! If those comments were not made the media would not of had the opportunity to misrepresent them. Ozzie forced the Marlins to make an ethical decision and I for one do not think this was harsh enough. The reporter was simply doing what he is paid to do, Ozzie, on the other hand, was doing the exact opposite. He gets paid to represent the Marlins in a good professional manner and failed miserably.

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