Zirin hits back against Miami Marlins suspension of Guillen for Castro comments
Today Major League Baseball’s Miami Marlins suspended their manager Ozzie Guillen. The infraction? Paying a compliment to former Cuban president Fidel Castro. Guillen has apologized for telling Time magazine he loves Castro. Dave Zirin writes about the politics of sports and is critical of the Marlins and the right-wing Cuban exile community in Miami for their witch-hunt of Guillen. Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports."
“He said it’s getting lost in the translation, to be clear, because he’s a first language Spanish speaker. But he said he loved Fidel Castro and he respects him for being able to stay in power for as long as he has. That’s pretty much it.”
Well that got him into a lot of trouble in Miami and now he’s been suspended. Why would he get in trouble for saying something like that?
“Well because he’s in Miami. Anybody who knows anything about Miami knows that even the faintest praise for Castro or even any sort of statement that says Fidel Castro is not Satan incarnate is going to bring all kinds of incredibly well-connected, well funded, well organized power upon your head. So you have the mayor of Miami-Dade, the county commissioner and you have exile groups in the streets all saying the same thing. That’s that Ozzie Guillen should be fired. Not to mention a whole coterie of sports columnists saying the same.”
Why would sports columnists get involved in that kind of debate? Why would they be concerned about him complimenting Castro?”
“Well because this is what sports columnists do, they say that sports and politics don’t mix and they are purveyors of conventional wisdom and popular opinion. It’s a very easy win. Criticizing somebody for not demonizing is a very easy way to earn a lot of brownie points in south Florida. This is what sports columnists do. There’s not any sort of real analysis about why Ozzie Guillen would say what he said and there’s certainly no support. There’s only this idea of saying hey lets defend our ideals of freedom of speech and expression by costing this guy his job.”
You also tie this into Marlin’s new stadium. The Miami Marlins just built a $2 billion stadium. How does this relate to that stadium issue?
“It relates profoundly to the stadium issue because the stadium issue was built and it’s going to cost the city $2 billion over the next 40 years. Several hundred million was spent of free agency and on free agent players to start the year. The mood of the populous towards the stadium is very tense because of the other pressing social needs in the city. The fact that the owner Jeffery Loria put up so little of his own money to actually build the stadium so they desperately needed good PR and a good season to inaugurate this new stadium. Honestly, that’s a big reason why they hired Ozzie Guillen.
"Opening night Ozzie Guillen got the loudest applause out of everybody introduced. Even out of the shiny free agent players like Jose Reyes. Ozzie Guillen got a new $10 million contract; he’s one of the highest paid managers in baseball. People were very excited that he was going to be there. And being Venezuelan descent and being bilingual was actually one of his big selling points for a stadium that was being built in little Havana. So having Ozzie Guillen step on this, honestly this is like anything short from a hurricane or an armed tax payer revolt. This is the worst possible thing that could have happened from a PR perspective to Jeff Loria and this new stadium. This is really the last chance to sell baseball in south Florida. It’s largely been a disaster since they opened. They’ve won two World Series and they immediately disbanded the teams. This is it, new stadium, spending the money, trying to draw new fans. So from a PR perspective this is an absolute nightmare.”
And the cheers that Guillen got were before his comments about Castro?”
“Of course, yes. The cheers were because he’s won a World Series with the White Sox, he’s incredibly charismatic, he’s bilingual and there’s a huge Venezuelan community as well in south Florida. People see Ozzie Gullien and they equate him with success and that’s something the Marlins have had in short supply in recent years.
So, finally, since he made the comments about Castro, he’s apologized and he’s been suspended for 5 games. What do you think about the apology and about the suspension?”
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“I think it’s very sad. I feel like I’m watching something that would be more common in a dictatorship than in a free society. He’s up there saying his apologies and the only thing that’s missing is a stockade. He said he’s on his knees apologizing to people. He actually described himself, he said, 'I’m on my knees begging for your forgiveness.' It’s an awful public spectacle; it’s an awful public display. I feel like I’m reading the Hunger Games or something. It’s something that I think is only happening because it happened in Miami, because of the right-wing exile community in Miami and because of Jeffery Loria and the Marlins have completely thrown him under the bus because they’re protecting a $2 billion investment.”