No doubt it’s difficult to be an athlete or coach nowadays. Say too little and you’re branded as stiff and boring, but say too much and you can end up in hot water. Ozzie Guillen is for the most part the type of manager that fans love. He’s outspoken, passionate, funny, enthusiastic, and he can make a losing team entertaining. As a Marlins fan, I have fond memories of him as a coach on the club’s 2003 world championship squad. But I knew when he was named manager that his mouth would get him into trouble in Miami as it did in Chicago, where he managed the White Sox until last season. In the past, Guillen, who is Venezuelan, has offered schizophrenic praise and criticism of his country’s president-cum-dictator, Hugo Chavez. It’s notable because Chavez became the benefactor to the Castro regime when he came to power in 1998. Venezuela provides 100,000 barrels of oil to Cuba daily, most of which is sold on the world market to keep the repressive government in business. So Guillen was already on a short leash when it comes to dumb statements that affect Cuban-Americans.
The problem in this case is that Ozzie Guillen was, in my view, making a joke about a matter that is deadly serious to many of the fans of his team. Ozzie should know better by now. He has Cuban-Americans on his coaching staff, there are Cuban-Americans on the broadcast team, and he’s even managed Cuban defectors like Jose Contreras. Did he stop to think about them before he blurted out his dumb comment? Probably not.
Guillen has since apologized for the remark and is flying down to Miami on the Marlins’ off-day to address the controversy head-on. This is admirable. As a Cuban-American and a fan of the Marlins, I’ve personally chosen to accept his apology. I never expected my team’s manager to be a diplomat. Hopefully he’s learned his lesson and can concentrate on helping his 2-3 club win.
Let me be clear about one thing. In our country Ozzie Guillen has the right to say whatever he wants, no matter how dumb. What he doesn’t have is a right to be popular. If you make unpopular statements or jokes that are in poor taste, you can’t expect to be loved. If you repeatedly make such statements and alienate your boss’s customers, you can’t expect to keep your job for long. That would be just plain dumb.