Maybe it’s that I, as a Chicagoan, had a front-row seat to Ozzie Guillen single-handedly livening up the staid American sports scene for the seven years he managed here. Maybe it’s that I, as a Sox fan, enjoyed debating which of his controversies were authentic and which were whipped up to deflect attention away from his flailing lineup. Maybe I, as an American, simply fail to appreciate the depth of Guillen’s betrayal in letting his words get away from him on the explosive topic of Fidel Castro. Whatever the case, I think the apology Guillen offered on Tuesday was heartfelt, and I think that his new city of Miami should forgive him.
In a spring training interview with Time magazine, Guillen was quoted as saying “I love Fidel Castro … I respect Fidel Castro.” Though he immediately retracted and clarified his errant comment, the remark went over like the Bay of Pigs in the Cuban population to which his new team has made desperate appeals. Calls for his resignation/firing/head snowballed. Tuesday, Guillen used his day off to return to Miami and offer American sports’ first literal mea culpa. His mostly Spanish press conference was a direct apology offered humbly and, it seems, genuinely, to the community that had so heartily welcomed him before.
Hopefully resentment toward Guillen will blow over with the 5-game suspension the Marlins handed down. Demands for his firing are outsize to his offense. All that Guillen expressed was amazement at Fidel Castro’s persistent hold on power through 60 years of inimical forces within and without his country. It was no different than remarking on the canniness of an elusive criminal, and it certainly bore none of the “pro-Castro” sentiment that ESPN is irresponsibly attributing to him.
Guillen is the first to admit that his comments were negligent, but might I ask what harm has actually come of this? At worst Guillen brought national attention to the plight of an exiled people. It’s also a rare opportunity for the American public to glimpse into the vast cultural differences among the Spanish-speaking world. This was the sight of one of the leading Latinos in American sports offering an apology to “el pueblo Cubano” in a common tongue, as a Venezuelan with complex views on his own country’s controversial leader. A story, one would think, not easily construed into the tired “insensitive comment atoned” narrative we frequently see sensationalized.
Ultimately, the scandalous coverage of the whole episode seems like the eagerness of American media to ignore any nuance about opinions, especially political, that deviate from the one permissible mainstream opinion. I understand the Cuban community’s outrage at Guillen’s admitted mistake, but after all the distortion this story has brought to their cause, they would do well to be a little magnanimous. Give Ozzie a break. Move on to the team he manages, your well-made-over Miami Marlins, who could contend in the National League this year. Move on to baseball. Move on from the misinterpreted comments.