MIAMI, FL - APRIL 10: Protesters rally outside as Miami Marlins Manager Ozzie Guillen seen on a screen speaks during a press conference about comments made about Fidel Castro at Marlins Park on April 10, 2012 in Miami, Florida. The Marlins suspended Guillen for five games over his pro-Castro comments. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
SB Nation Studios has been providing some excellent coverage of all things sports, and one of the biggest sports stories of the week is the ongoing Ozzie Guillen fiasco with his comments on Fidel Castro. Of course, this in and of itself is not even a sports story, which is what makes guys like me, who use sports as a hobby and an escape from the very real world of our profession or schooling, a very prominent headache. I do not like discussing real world topics as they relate to what sports figures think of them.
But alas, this turned out to be the biggest news about the Marlins this week despite the fact that the team is almost on its way home to Marlins Park for its first home stand of the park's inaugural campaign. And because this was big news, SB Nation Studios had you covered, with the always interesting Amy K. Nelson discussing the issue in her latest edition of Full Nelson.
Nelson does an excellent job of framing the argument from the side of some of the Cuban community, as she stood outside during their protest. It was interesting to note that the Cuban community was very frustrated just as other Marlins fans were at least happy with the apologetic response by Guillen during his press conference.
After watching this video, I came to the likely conclusion that there will always be a group of people who will never forgive Guillen for what he said, no matter how he said or how many times he apologizes for it.Nelson asked in multiple instances what it would take for the Cuban residents in the protest to forgive Ozzie Guillen for his words. Many of them either said that they would not forgive him or that it would take a massive, illogical show of faith and following for them to forgive him. It goes to show you how passionately the Cuban population feels about Fidel Castro and the atrocities that occurred in Cuba under his regime. And the honest truth is that it is totally acceptable and understandable for them to feel that way. I cannot empathize with how they feel, because I do not have that same visceral connection that those of Cuban descent or whose parents came to the United States from Cuba to escape persecution do. Folks who feel that way are going to feel strongly about the utterance of respect towards Castro, regardless of how it is framed. And again, it is totally understandable.
But it is also understandable that a good part of the Marlins population is interested in the Marlins in a strictly baseball sense. Those of us who feel that way are aware of the population of Cuban residents who feel strongly about the issue, but they are also of the opinion that, when it comes to folks in baseball, baseball should be the only thing that they talk about and the only thing they say that should matter. For those fans (myself included), Guillen's apology was heartfelt, sincere, and was enough to assuage the incredible insensitivity of the comments he made. It could be because these fans may not have a strong connection to the Cuban community, or maybe it is because these fans simply do not take things that baseball folks say about politics or other topics veryu seriously. In any case, for those fans, the apology and suspension were the first steps to moving forward with the 2012 season and team and healing from an ugly situation.
Of course, it does not mean that one side is right or wrong. In this case, there simply is not a right or wrong so much as there are priorities. I personally was not disgusted by the entirety of Guillen's comments, but that is just my opinion. Those who were disgusted equated it to saying positive things about Adolf Hitler's resilience or methods without praising his policies, and for those who feel that way, it is understandable why they would feel anger. For me, it did not feel that way, but that is just my opinion versus theirs. Given that being the case, you would naturally expect there to be a rift among Marlins fans about how to handle the situation, between those who accepted Guillen as saying enough and moving on and those who will stand up for their beliefs and hold their ground against his comments.
Among Marlins players, current and former, there are two prominent examples that I found interesting that reflect both sides to a lesser degree. On the one hand, you have Gaby Sanchez, current Marlins first baseman and son of Cuban refugee parents, who has kept his opinions private but is looking to move forward.
After watching Guillen express extreme remorse during a 40-minute news conference, Sanchez said: "Definitely, you could see that he was very sincere in his apology. It was good to see him out there apologizing and trying to set everything straight on what he said and what it was about. … We just have to move forward."
On the other hand, you have Mike Lowell, former Marlins third baseman and also a son of Cuban refugees, who also sees why the comments were so damaging to the population and is confused as to how to act.
"So my father-in-law walks in and there's just sadness in his eyes. He said, 'You see what the manager of the Marlins said?' He's deeply offended and hurt," an emotional Lowell said. "Speaking of that suitcase, my father-in-law didn't even get a suitcase. He was in prison for 15 years. Imagine them taking away (ages) 19 to 34 and someone says something like this. How can you not react in an emotional way? That's the hard part."
There is real emotion from both players and both sides. Clearly Sanchez is a bit biased in that he is on the team and he wants his team to not be distracted and go on to succeed, but there is a good chance that he feels the sting, however much it is, of Guillen's comments much like Lowell and his family does. So even Cuban players can be divided to an extent in this respect.
But in moving forward, I think both sides are concerned about the resolution. Here's Lowell on the subject:
"I think the whole thing put the Marlins in a tough situation because one person's view is not the view of our organization," he said. "But what can be the proper penalty? One game? Ten games? A season? Fire him? I don't know even if you fired him [if] you really appease the community. The irony is that you can't fire him based on the fact that one of our freedoms is the freedom of speech. I just think it puts the Marlins organization behind the eight-ball because they know they like Ozzie Guillen the baseball manager and they knew somewhere down the road he was going to say something. But not like this. I don't think they ever thought it would be this."
I think the last few lines are the most telling parts of how people will feel about this as we go forward. Lowell questions whether any punishment, even a firing of Guillen, would be enough to calm a certain subset of the population. And just like it was in Guillen's right to say what he said, it is in that population's right to say whatever they feel is right to stand up for their beliefs. And therein lies the dilemma for the Marlins, since there will be no positive outcome with that population no matter what they do.
The Marlins may never be able to please that subset, no matter how important it is to their brass that they get on the good side of the Cuban population. For those fans, the damage has already been done. But moving forward is still going to be important, and at the very least, the Marlins have done the right thing in starting the process for the majority of the fan base that may not feel the same way as the older Cuban generation.