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 in Miami, Florida. The Marlins suspended Guillen for five games over his pro-Castro comments. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Deceive. Inveigle. Obfuscate. — The X-Files
Ozzie Guillen is almost certainly the most colorful character in baseball today. Of course, that comes at the cost of having a mind that makes only intermittent contact with the reality that the rest of us share. The lack of a verbal filter means that he feels free to unleash gems like the exploits of our very own Laser Show, but that also means he is unable to stop himself from blurting out lines such as "I love Fidel Castro." Even if that's not what he really meant (and more on that in a minute) the fact that he's a free-spirited, uncensored kind of guy doesn't make such statements any more palatable.
That said, his comments in this particular case were exceptionally stupid, given that he's the skipper for a club whose new stadium is located in Little Havana. Even if you think that you want Fidel Castro to be your next BFF, in that particular neighborhood? You should keep such an opinion to your own freaking self. There is no possible good that can come of such an idiotic statement. Even if you realize the error you've made and correct it immediately—as Guillen did, changing "love" to "respect"—you're still opening a can of worms for yourself. Making matters worse, it appears that this community-building sentiment (it did, in fact, rally the community—in calling for Guillen's head) emanated from Guillen as an entirely unsolicited opinion.
However, in reviewing this situation, in spite of Guillen's checkered past and extreme challenges in recognizing when, per Twain's retort, he shouldn't remove all doubt as to his lack of intelligence, I find that my greatest ire is not focused on Guillen itself. Instead, I find myself revulsed by the so-called "professional" media.Once upon a time, the mark of a true journalist was the faithful recording of facts as they actually occurred. This means that faithful reporting of what has actually been said should always take priority over the desire to tell an "exciting" story. News is not the same as entertainment, and the ground rules must follow from this fundamental fact. The Time reporter who recounted Guillen's story failed to follow that basic rule, and the result is that Guillen has been suspended for five games.
The problem here is that Guillen, for once, realized that what he said had the potential to be misconstrued, and so he offered an amended version of his statement. Instead of showing his man crush on Fidel, he instead showed "respect" for what Castro has done. (And surviving for fifty years when one of the stated policy aims of the US is the destruction of your regime is an impressive accomplishment, regardless of what one's opinions of his record while in office.)
But what the reporter did is deliberately misleading. Instead of pointing out Guillen's rapid disavowal of his statement, he delays that key fact while discoursing on Guillen's penchant for saying something idiotic. The delay in print is just as jarring as if it had been done on television, with an interrupting voiceover. The initial, accidental first thought becomes a statement unto itself. As a result, the author of the story has completely changed the inherent meaning of the statement. Its isolation heightens its seeming importance, and makes it all the more startling. Thus, the author, in an attempt to tell what seems to be a colorful anecdote, has committed the cardinal sin of journalism: he has inserted himself into the story.
Making stories more "human" is an admirable goal—indeed, it's one of the hallmarks of a good writer. Somewhere in the editing chain, however, a breakdown occurred, and the result is a needless brouhaha over what should have been a mostly innocuous mental slip.
Now that I've vented my spleen on the biggest issue, I still have a bone to pick with Ozzie. What he did, as I discussed above, was colossally stupid. However, in the spirit of offering constructive criticism rather than merely ranting, I offer him, and all other figures known to the world primarily or exclusively through their involvement in sports, the following advice.
If you are a sports figure, make sure your public commentary sticks to sports and subjects that are personal to you.
You are a public figure because of your acumen or prowess in physical matters. You are not here to provide us with your opinion on who you think should be our next president, senator, or dog catcher. You are not an expert on international relations. What you think about the latest political contretemps is of no import whatsoever.
If you choose to speak on such matters, keep in mind the following: there is a good chance that many of the people you would like to be your fans may hold diametrically opposing views from yours—and cherish them to the point that they drop their allegiance to you as a result of disagreeing with what they hold to be so vital. Your spontaneous blurt may end up being very, very costly.
If you feel compelled to speak about something not related to sports, though, make sure that it is something personal. Talk about the charity organization you're working for, or the business you're a co-owner of, or about your adorable kids. If you'd like to use your celebrity to humanitarian ends like a latter-day Clemente, so much the better. But make sure it's something you know well, so that you don't end up opening your mouth and inserting your foot in the process.