Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can hurt you, too. We lie when we tell children otherwise.
Words don’t leave visible scars, but they can cut and sting like a lash. The latest case in a long line of examples was on full display Tuesday at Marlins Park, where Miami manager Ozzie Guillen apologized over and over again for comments about Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.
Guillen is known for making outrageous and controversial remarks. His barbs, sometimes laced with profanity, have been aimed at virtually every segment of baseball, including writers, umpires, opponents, broadcasters, fans and his own front office. But he has demonstrated an amazing, Teflon-like ability in keeping his utterances from sticking … until now.
He obviously didn’t realize the impact of his words — “I love Fidel Castro” — in a recent Time magazine article. Such sentiment is especially explosive in Miami, home to one of the nation’s largest, strongest and most politically active Cuban-American communities. Guillen spent about an hour Tuesday in apologizing and claiming that his comments were misinterpreted. He’ll have a hard time convincing passionate critics that his true feelings were lost in translation.
The Marlins suspended Guillen shortly before the news conference, as many Cuban-American groups called for his termination. The Marlins also made their position clear: “There is nothing to respect about Fidel Castro,” the club said in a statement. “He is a brutal dictator who has caused unthinkable pain for more than 50 years. We live in a community filled with victims of this dictatorship, and the people in Cuba continue to suffer today.”
You don’t have to be Cuban-American to sense their pain, just like you don’t have to be Jewish or African-American to sense the outrage when someone praises Adolf Hitler or the Ku Klux Klan.
Believe it or not, correct and politically correct can be synonymous at times.
Major League Baseball has traveled this road before. Former Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Al Campanis resigned under pressure in 1987 after saying blacks were unqualified to be managers or general managers. Former Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott was suspended in 1993 and from 1996 through ‘98 for praising Hitler and making racial slurs. Former Atlanta Braves closer John Rocker was suspended in 2000 for disparaging remarks about gays, minorities and foreigners.
In those cases, as in Guillen’s case, some folks argue that punishment is inappropriate. They contend that sports figures shouldn’t be held to the same standard as, say, elected officials and political appointees. Sports are about fun and games, not to be taken as life and death.
But public figures in a given community don’t come much larger than owners, management or uniformed personnel from the home team. Every word out of their mouths reflects on the organization, even comments that are purely personal opinion.
Yes, Guillen’s offense is expressing pro-Castro sentiment. If he believes Castro is great, he should’ve kept it to himself. Likewise, it doesn’t matter what someone on the other side of a desk thinks about minority candidates, as long as those views aren’t verbalized and don’t outweigh credentials for the loan, apartment or job.
Guillen or anyone else can’t be locked up for voicing unpopular opinions (though they shouldn’t yell “Fire!” at the movies or joke about bombs at the airport). But the right to free speech can come with a cost from your boss.
Five games is Guillen’s price for now. It’s a fair amount that, unfortunately, might increase if pressure doesn’t decrease.