MLB

Ozzie is wrong, First Amendment isn't

Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen apologizes for his comments about Fidel Castro.
Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen apologizes for his comments about Fidel Castro.
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Jen Floyd Engel

Jen Floyd Engel, selected as the top columnist in the 2012 Associated Press Sports Editors annual contest, started working at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1997 and became a columnist in 2003 before joining FOXSports.com. Sports opinions? She's never short of them. And love her or hate her, she'll be just another one of the boys. Follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook.

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Two things I have an absolute nerdy fascination with converged Tuesday: First Amendment law and Ozzie Guillen.

My love of the Miami Marlins manager is admittedly selfish. In an industry loaded with PC phonies too scared to say anything of any substance, he is honest — refreshingly so and, yes, also frustratingly so at times.

He lacks a filter, which journalists love until lack of such leads to speech that we disagree with; then we become raging hypocrites about how he needs to zip and shut.

Of course, the only thing journalists love more than the unfiltered soul is the First Amendment. It legitimizes our jobs and elevates them from mere writing to a sacred role in the democracy.

My admiration, frankly, is that of a writer. The founding fathers delivered this amazing article, the Constitution, and immediately began amending. What they did with the First Amendment was lay the foundation for all that we hold dear.

Which brings us back to Ozzie, because what he said to Time magazine (“I love Castro”) and what eventually happened to him as a result (a five-game suspension with firing still a possibility) demonstrates how cheaply we give away what we claim to value.

Free speech cannot be a basic tenet of democracy if the only speech we are willing to defend is intelligent speech, or kind speech, or speech with which we happen to agree. The real tests come from the mouths of people we abhor saying things we believe in our heart of hearts to be ignorant, pigheaded and wrong.

I hate that Rush Limbaugh called college student Sandra Fluke a slut while believing with every fiber of my body that he has to have that right. My stomach turns when I hear American citizens call President Barack Obama a Muslim, the devil and Hitler, just as it did four years ago when invectives like idiot and Hitler (what is wrong with us that that is a proper insult?) were hurled at George W. Bush.

And yet this speech must also be protected: The right to an opinion we hate is what separates us and ultimately what makes us great.

This is why I defend Ozzie’s right to be completely wrong about Castro and abhor what the Marlins did in response.

The argument that keeps coming back at me is we are free only from government interference, not consequences. Business, specifically, is allowed to punish speech it finds offensive. All of this is true, and more frightening than government interference.

It also sounds about par for the course seeing as we live in an age where politicians like to argue corporations are people, where banks are too big to fail but schools are not, where the almighty dollar almost always trumps what is right when they go head to head.

Of course, we should not be surprised when free speech loses to free market; what I am surprised by is how willingly we concede the fight — ignoring the long-term ramifications of our cowardice.

There is a chilling effect that accompanies Cuban-Americans bullying the Miami Marlins into suspending Ozzie for words they disagree with.

Words, mind you.

CLASS OF 2009

Stephen Strasburg was No. 1. See who else was drafted in the first round that year.

He did not embezzle money, abuse his wife, drink and drive, kill somebody, say President Obama is not a citizen — as Tampa Bay Rays designated hitter Luke Scott (then with the Baltimore Orioles) did a couple of years ago. Guillen uttered an opinion that a very vocal and powerful group of citizens (also a target demographic of Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria) disagreed with, and thus they want him silenced.

Let’s disabuse everybody of the notion that any harm was done by the high-minded BS that all the anger stems from a) Fidel Castro being a miserable tyrant or b) a baseball manager saying something nice about him and later falling all over himself to apologize for his idiocy.

Ozzie said that two years ago and nobody cared.

And which is worse: a baseball manager saying something nice about Castro, or the United States having friendly relations and trade agreements with Saudi Arabia? The Saudis do not violate women’s right. They simply do not give them any.

Silencing Ozzie is about censoring (via boycott and threats) an opinion they find abhorrent, and this infringement on speech is even scarier than anything government could dream up.

As Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes presciently said: “Censorship is an almost irresistible impulse when you know you are right. But when we look back at all that used to be seen as the truth, we know that we must keep a free market of ideas open. The best test of truth is the ability to get accepted in the market.”

Idiocy thrives in the dark, not in dialogue.

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Yet we are slowly headed down a road where the only opinions safe to utter are the banal and benign — Castro is bad, "Bountygate" is bad. Calipari is bad, and on and on.

We say we want honesty. We say we want free speech. Then let’s see us defend Ozzie’s right to be wrong about Castro. Because all Ozzie really did was start a dialogue.

It forced people to talk about Castro and why admiring him is simply ridiculous and what he actually has inflicted upon countless Cubans and why so many Cuban-Americans rightly view him on par with Hitler.

Idiocy does not die in darkness but, rather, in dialogue.

Congress is making no law abridging free speech. We are. We are party to this censorship of fear, and, by doing so, we stymie debate and dialogue. It has seeped into everything — politics and sports. Everybody retreating back to what they know to be right, trying to shout down and shut up anybody who believes differently.

All this does is prevent us from learning from others' views and becoming more informed. Instead we retreat to our news sources, our opinions and complain about why nothing changes.

I know the argument: “But, Jen, this is Castro.” And I understand the inclination — to shut down speech that is hurtful to so many. If we do not fight for the idiotic speech, then the line will keep moving until the speech they come after is yours.

What if an athlete does an interview with Time where he says abortion is murder and he believes women who have them should be tried as such? Should a team be allowed to suspend him? What if women get mad?

POLL

  • Did Marlins properly punish Ozzie Guillen for his Fidel comments?
    • Yes. 5-game suspension is adequate.
    • No. He insulted team's fan base.
    • What ever happened to free speech?

Or what about the Miami Heat players who stood in solidarity with Trayvon Martin by taking that striking hoodie photo? If enough Heat season-ticket holders got mad, is it OK to suspend them?

Or what if a player is Jewish and says he does not believe Jesus is the Messiah? Should the team be able to suspend him if enough season-ticket holders are Christian and object?

The tricky aspect to the line is that the little sucker is always moving. I did not quite understand that when I first heard it uttered in "Broadcast News" so long ago. I do now. Ozzie has to be free to say he loves Castro, and it is up to us to fight those entities — government or business or other — seeking to censor him.

It is not because we agree with the speech. It is because to do anything else is to say we no longer believe in the foundation on which it stands.

Tagged: Marlins, Rays

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