Anyone familiar with Miami wasn't surprised that Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen's comments about Fidel Castro set off a fire storm. But certain folks in the sports world were off on the sidelines scratching their heads or muttering things about how baseball managers aren't diplomats. Some are even defending Guillen. That said, some should shut up. Guillen got off pretty lightly for what he said, and the public controversy and suspension is just the work of good ol' American capitalism at its finest.
Deadspin's initial report about the comments came with a detached tone and dismissal of any ensuing controversy.
"This whole episode is nothing more than 'Exhibit Z' in the case of Ozzie Guillén against smart things said, and if you are taking this guy seriously, you deserve whatever stress he causes," Sean Newell wrote.
"Who is Guillen? A diplomat? An elected official?" Paul Whitefield wrote for the L.A. Times before concluding that Guillen got "jobbed" worse in Florida than Al Gore.
On social media, scores of users are shouting things about censorship and how they thought this was a free country.
I'd wager that the majority of those people have not had to flee their own country -- a country, led by a murderous dictator, where things such as blogs, a free press, and social media don't exist. Good for them. Neither have we. But they do live in America, and they should be familiar with capitalism. Capitalism informs just about every aspect of American life, including (or perhaps especially) professional sports.
The Marlins, like all pro sports teams, are able to pay Guillen his princely sum because they (A) provide entertainment and (b) people associate pride in their corporate sports team with pride in their local community. The economics of professional sports rests on the fact that people who live in the community represented by a team actually, you know, like that team and feel a bond with it.
The Marlins are walking a tricky tightrope of popularity right now. No one forgets the two times the team won the World Series and then sold off the crown jewels from their roster. No one forgets the crappy rosters the team pretended was a pro team for the rest of their years. No one forgets the messy public financing drama that paid for their new park.
The new stadium and roster have provided some excitement after all of that drama, though, and the Marlins now have to do everything in their power to keep that good feeling flowing. Of course, what happened with Guillen is one of the worst things that could have happened.
Guillen said, "I love Fidel Castro." (As a side note, we'd bet, say, if Joe Philbin, Al Golden, or Eric Spolestra said the same thing, the protests would be even larger, because, well, people actually care about those teams down here.) Nothing alienates Miami's Cuban-American community faster, and even the non-Cubans understand the stupidity and insensitivity of that remark.
Let's not make lazy equivocations. We're talking about different types of evil here. But imagine if an MLB manager said, "You know, I respect Adolf Hitler" or "that Osama Bin Laden was a helluva guy." No one would be left scratching their heads when that manager was promptly fired. The emotions concerning Fidel Castro in Miami are similar.
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So if you're a sports team desperately trying to sell your revamped product to Miami citizens, a large chunk of whom are Cuban-Americans, from a controversial outpost in Little Havana you do not want one of the public faces of your organization saying things like, "I love Fidel Castro." It's not good for business. It's not good for the bottom line. It's not good for the American capitalist way. So you have to do something. You have to make the guy apologize in a highly dramatic news conference. You have to send down some form of punishment.
Anyone who thinks Guillen should have escaped this episode without any bruises simply doesn't understand the economics of pro sports. The guy might be a rambling blabbermouth, and thoughts concerning Cuba in Miami might be evolving, but there's just no room for anyone who wants to do any business down here to express love and admiration for Fidel Castro. You can't alienate your customer base, folks.
Isn't that taught in Business 101?