Dave Zirin, The Progressive - Howard Cosell once said famously that sports and politics don’t mix. Yet the more you stare at the world of sports it becomes obvious that it’s not “sports and politics” that don’t mix, but sports and a certain kind of politics. If an athlete wants to “support the troops,” rally behind a new publicly funded stadium, or in the case of Tim Tebow, do commercials for rightwing evangelical hate-shop like Focus on the Family, then you are a role model. Anyone who dares step out of that box would bear a very different set of consequences. This was seen sharply with the case of Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen.
To be clear, I have no problem with what Guillen said. Castro’s ability to survive since Eisenhower was President of the United States is remarkable.
I also have no problem with South Florida’s very well connected, rightwing Cuban community, flexing their muscle in an effort to denounce Guillen. Free speech doesn’t mean freedom from criticism.
I do have a tremendous problem with the Miami Marlins franchise suspending Guillen for five games without pay.
I do have a problem with Guillen becoming yet another person from the world of sports who gets fined, loses money, and has his job threatened for daring to have something political to say.
I have a problem with him, in order to save his job, having to grovel like a broken man at a press conference that was only missing a stockade. Guillen had to say, “I come to apologize on my knees with my heart in my hands,” and “I’ve learned not to speak in politics where I don’t belong.” He then renounced Castro, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, and every last red short of Paul Robeson. Those kinds of political statements were fine.
This kind of awful morality theater is nothing less than the stone-cold definition of a chilling effect on free speech.
As Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute, said, “Baseball managers are entitled to the same Constitutional rights as anyone else. Period, full stop,” Marshall wrote. “In fact, we ought to call an end to the all-too-common ritual of public humiliation, confession, and absolution that follows whenever some celebrity says something stupid or offensive. It’s the closest thing our supposedly free society has to a totalitarian show trial.”