Last week, in his first days at his new job as manager of the Miami Marlins, Venezuelan-born Ozzie Guillen said to Time magazine, "I love Fidel Castro," adding "You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that mother------ is still there."
The Marlins' brand new $634 million ballpark is in the city's Little Havana, and not surprisingly, Guillen's words ignited a powder keg of emotion and anger from Cuban-Americans. Since then, Guillen apologized and received his punishment -- suspension from five games.
And to many, that's that. After all, some say, Guillen, legendary for inserting his foot in his mouth, was simply mouthing off. ESPN's Michael Baumann put it this way: "I can't believe anyone cares what Ozzie Guillen thinks about a foreign dictator. Baseball should not want to be in a place where it restricts political speech."
Guillen joins a long line of people in powerful positions in sports saying offensive things; salty-tongued Marge Schott, former owner of the Cincinnati Reds, went so far as to praise Hitler.
But to dismiss Guillen's words as inconsequential, so absurd as to not warrant serious analysis, is to ignore the depth and passion of Cubans who live in this country not as immigrants but as exiles.
Cuban-Americans were kicked out of Cuba by a hateful despot. As such, their view of Castro is imbued by violent, tragic experience and memory, and by a profound appreciation for the freedoms they now enjoy in the United States. That a public figure in sports claimed respect -- even love -- for Castro is despicable.
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