Ozzie Guillen of the Miami Marlins learns of free speech and consequences

(CNN) -- Ozzie Guillen's remarks on Fidel Castro may be constitutionally protected, but he has learned there is nothing shielding him from the ire of Miami's large Cuban community.

His comment to Time magazine that he loves Fidel Castro and later comment that he "respects" him rankled the Cuban-American community in Miami, home to the baseball team Guillen manages, the Marlins.

The team's stadium is located in the area of the city known as Little Havana.

The reaction by the team was swift -- a five-game suspension. Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig supported the move.

"Mr. Guillen's remarks, which were offensive to an important part of the Miami community and others throughout the world, have no place in our game," he said Tuesday.

And the reaction by some in the Cuban-American community has been even stronger.

According to local media, one anti-Castro organization, Vigilia Mambisa, called for a boycott of the Marlins and began picketing the baseball stadium Tuesday.

The fallout may cost Guillen the trust of Miami fans.

"There is absolutely nothing not protected by the First Amendment that he said," Florida International University Professor Howard M. Wasserman said. It was an example of political speech, pure and simple.

But free speech can have is consequences, as Guillen is learning.

"The problem is, he's in Miami," Wasserman said.

Miami's Cuban community is made up of a large number of exiles who fled the Castro regime and who strongly lobby in support of the U.S. embargo against Cuba and other anti-Castro measures. Cuba's current president is Fidel's brother, Raul Castro.

In another city, Guillen's comments may not have been as controversial, but in Miami, there is a unique sensitivity to Castro, Wasserman said.

"I think it's kind of silly, but it's where he happens to be," he said.

If the government had suspended an public employee for political speech, it would be illegal, he said. But the Marlins, as a private entity, can mete out punishment as they see fit, especially when it offends a segment of their fan base.

The Marlins have a need and interest to protect their market, and, in fact, are using their own free speech interest in handing down the suspension, the law professor said.

Marlins fans on social media came out on both sides of the debate.

Guillen apologized Tuesday in Spanish at a news conference, saying his words were misconstrued and that he finds Castro's human rights record odious.

But for Cuban and Cuban-American fans, the damage was done.

Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald eloquently summed up the emotions that Guillen's comments stirred.

"There are people in South Florida who are angry with Guillen because he struck an emotional and painful nerve. I am unapologetically one of those people because the communist dictator Guillen apparently loves broke my family," he wrote in a column.

Salguero said he would prefer to see an indefinite suspension for the manager.

Other Marlins fans, even if they disagreed with Guillen's remarks, didn't like the way the suspension was handled.

Frank Ramirez, a longtime fan, said that Miami "is the last place you want to say something like that."

Still, he drew a distinction between the ball club suspending Guillen for what he said, rather than acting in response to fan outcries.

To suspend Guillen for the content of what he said -- no matter how wrongheaded -- comes across as a violation of his right to free speech, Ramirez said.

But if the club instead reacted to business interests such as fear of a boycott or financial loss, then a punitive action is justified.

And the action that fans clamor for, Ramirez said, might be more stringent that the five-game suspension.

"I don't think Marlins fans will forgive him for this," he said.

 
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