One of the debates playing out over Ozzie Guillen’s remarks--the Miami Marlins manager was suspended Tuesday for five games after saying in a Time interview that “I love Fidel Castro”--is whether the right to free speech should have saved Guillen from punishment. Some 49 percent of the readers responding to the Post’s non-scientific user poll said the disciplinary action against Guillen was unjustified.
And in the comments to Cindy Boren’s post yesterday about Guillen’s suspension, many sounded a similar note to this one, from adam23: “Are people not allowed to say anything they want anymore? … Seriously people, this suspend-fire-resign-apologize cabal is ridiculous. Yes, words have consequences, but did Ozzie Guillen really need to be suspended for expressing his beliefs?”
Yes, adam23, he did. Our right to free speech may keep us out of jail, or keep us from prosecution, but it does not guarantee us a job, particularly a public one that relies on customers who would be offended by such remarks and that young children look up to as role models. Ozzie Guillen’s remarks applauded a figure who is offensive not only to the Cuban-American community that is part of the team’s fan base, but to the very people whose tax dollars were behind the team’s new ballpark.
Consider the parallels. If you’re a senior manager of a business who takes to your Twitter account to espouse beliefs that are likely to damage the performance of that business, you’d expect the company’s owners would have the right to take action, wouldn’t you? People in far less public positions get reprimanded for making far less controversial remarks on their Facebook pages. A right to free speech may exist in this country, but so does the right of business owners to make decisions that protect their enterprises.
None of this, of course, takes into account Guillen’s history of making controversial comments. This is a man who has had to go to “sensitivity training” for making a homophobic slur against a columnist, allowed inflatable dolls in the White Sox clubhouse to remind the team “You’ve Got to Push” and called Americans lazy. And it is not the first time he has praised the Cuban dictator’s resilience, if not his politics. Perhaps the Castro remark--made while managing a team in Miami this time--was simply the final straw.
People have a right to their beliefs. But when you’re the face of a team located in ground zero of deeply personal anti-Castro sentiment in this country, play a role in fostering fan enthusiasm, and lead a team that plays a game looked up to by generations of kids, you have a responsibility not to make comments that will be offensive to your fans and your community. Sure, Guillen can sound off on whatever he wants. But if he wants to keep his job leading the Miami Marlins, he’ll have to watch what he says.