Musical fire courtesy of OK Go and RJD2.
Download here or here, stream below, itunes link below, and RSS feed here. Respect.
|Dear God Why Us Sports||
Kicking off a second season of this soccer-themed podcast, after a baffling hiatus during a massive soccer tournament this summer, The Barrister is joined by The Defenseman to talk Liverpool, the Premier League, vicious dictators, the Bills (barely acceptable tangential takes), and exclusive information about Liverpool's recent signings. Little known fact: The Defenseman has an uncanny ability to research the back stories of European footballers.
Musical fire courtesy of OK Go and RJD2.
Download here or here, stream below, itunes link below, and RSS feed here. Respect.
Not For Sale
I know there is going to have to be some compromise on my part during this entire sale process. I have no control over the Buffalo Bills in any fashion. I can simply choose to watch and care. Nothing is up to me. All I can do is decide if I want them to be an important part of my life or not.
The community of friends I have built around the team and how I interact with them make distancing myself from the franchise problematic. I’m a long way from home. Sports keeps a line open to all of the friends I’ve made. Sports is how I made them in the first place. I’m kind of a flake. It isn’t easy to make friends when you think every single person around you thinks you’re a flake. Sports act as the crutch I sometimes need to interact with people like a normal human being. Hang out in a crowd. Lob a few jokes around. People laugh. Suddenly they are talking to you. Did you just make a friend by talking about how bad Tim Connolly is? Sports!
This is the existential dilemma of sports. For it to exist properly, we must have an emotional connection to the enterprise. For it to be a success for all involved, you are going to have to maintain a rooting interest in the players or the team in your immediate geographic vicinity. Sports can be like theater, and ain’t nobody staying to watch a stage play where everyone is an asshole to you. So you buy in. You find people to like, maybe even love. We love the things they do and how they do it in dramatic fashion. We ride the emotional ride with them through all of the highs and lows. And we have no control.
Where sports and theatre diverge is how much our sports organizations demand our allegiance. Do people wear Irish Classical Theatre jerseys? Is there a Shea’s Mafia? Do we ascribe our self-worth as an audience to a review of the latest performance of Waiting for Godot? Is somebody calling in WGR with all manner of hot takes on that last monologue or aside? Theatre asks for our love in different ways. They’d like for you to be there, be a polite audience, and maybe help out when they need money for renovations.
Professional sport walks into your life and holds you at gunpoint. It is our childhood time killers hijacked by men with long mustaches, top hats and capes. We take something that has brought us immense joy in our lives and give responsibility for it to the wealthiest in our society – those who are the furthest from us in class, empathy, humility, and civics. If you don’t like a little politics in your sports, you can stop reading now. Go in peace.
Happy Pegula Day.
The first of many takes on this news... Guest contributor, former full-timer...
This is all very odd. It probably has something to do with my fever-ridden brain, but all of this feels as if it may vanish next morning. Am I going to wake up in bed with Susane Pleshette? Is Patrick Duffy going to be in the shower? Am I a kid with autism staring at a snow globe?
Terry Pegula finally took full ownership of the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night when he relieved General Manager Darcy Regier and Head Coach Ron Rolston on their posts. Regier had been GM for the Sabres for 16 years, winning no championships. In their places: Pat LaFontaine as President of Hockey Operations and Ted Nolan - TED NOLAN WHAT THE FUCK - as interim Head Coach. Now the last vestiges of Golisano and Rigas are gone. This is the real Pegula Day.
I've always kind of wondered about Pegula and his level control with this team. He took charge in a bath of glory from a desperate fanbase and then immediately proclaimed that nothing would change. There was no new vision. There was no grand strategic plan. It was the men he retained, finally being free of inept management. Pegula found out, brutally, that the ineptness resided within the room.
It could not be easy for the man. He showed deep emotional committment to Lindy Ruff and Regier on the day he took full vestment. He had to believe deep down in their abilities. To come to the realization that maybe your heroes cant save the world is, to borrow from Ruff's dialog, a tough one. But controlling a sports team means, quite often, having to dispense with the people you love and respect most in order to maintain peak performance. Pegula's sentimentality got the better of him. We should hope its a mistake he never makes again.
The Sabres have maybe acquired something they haven't had since the lockout of 2004, and that is vision. The infusion of LaFontaine may bring that grand plan the team had desperately been lacking for so long. Since Pegula bought the team they have wandered from one half-assed strategy to the next. They thought they could turn it around right when he bought the team in 2011, but couldn't quite make it work. No one could agree as to whether they were rebuilding or not after that. Did they start rebuilding last year? When they fired Ruff? When they hired Rolston? When they traded Pominville? The ship was without a captain.
Regier was always good at holding a thing together, but it felt like he was taking direction from elsewhere. He did well when someone else wrote the rules of engagement. Both Rigas and Golisano set financial goals for the franchise and had direct impact on personnel decisions made by the team. Pegula was adamant that wouldn't happen again, but assumed that the man taking orders was being restrained by the financial constraints as opposed to fulfilling the job at which he was his best. Pegula got a chance to see Regier's style of management for himself, free of interference, and saw a void. "Fuck. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I just wanted to believe in this guy."
Hey man, you always said you were a fan first. Well this is a first rate fan fuck up. We do this shit all the time.
The blessings of unimaginable personal wealth is that you can fuck up without any personal risk. Saying Pegula is getting a second chance at this isn't quite phrasing right, because the guy never really took the helm, nor does he necessarily have a finite number of chances to take. This is where the guy is giving it a shot. This is where his mark is to be made. The fact that LaFontaine and Nolan both have been with this franchise before and worked together on Long Island in a similar capacity should not be mistaken for another bout of crippling sentimentality (although there is a great risk of it being just that). The two of them bring definitiveness.
No one would ever accuse Ted Nolan of being ambiguous. His goal and ambitions are clear to the point of friction. He causes intense heat in organizations. Lucky for him he joins a franchise where all the boilers are out. There maybe isn't a greater myth, in the classic sense of the word, in Buffalo sports than that of Nolan's ability to draw blood from stone and passion from the uninspired. His team was The Hardest Working Team In The NHL. They may not be good, but at least they will beat the shit out of somebody. Plenty of the old schoolers will be out in force clamoring for the days of the mid-90s. They'll march down Washington Street carrying signs that read "Corsi Who?" and "Math Can't Win In The Streets." They will be put to bed by a lullaby of Bob Boughner and Brad May, sleeping to dream of an end to analytics.
Seeing this element pop up makes me uneasy. I could hold my breath comfortably within the time one of these 90s hockey-worshiping mastodons calls an opposing player a faggot. Not the classiest brigade in the order of battle. Perhaps though, this is part of the myth building. Nolan's last gig was Head Coach of the Latvian national team. International hockey is not the best arena for rock'em sock'em hockey, yet Nolan got his squad into the Olympics. Maybe the man has more than just a bag of hammers in his toolbox, even if that's not what many Sabres fans care about right now.
LaFontaine got fired from the Islanders for telling them what he thought. That act should shine as an act of bureaucratic valor unparalleled in hockey. He is now on the outs on the Island. Their loss. I don't quite know what his game plan is. He never got a chance to put it into effect with the Islanders, but whatever it was it pissed off Charles Wang to the point of termination. Tell me more, Mr. LaFontaine.
We are in a position of potential energy maybe unseen in Buffalo sports. U.B. football is on the rise and Bulls hoops has a new lead. The Bills have completely turned over, Ralph Wilson is incapable of fucking it up, and just maybe they have a quarterback. And now the Sabres have finally, mercifully done what they should have done three years ago in releasing Regier.
Happy Pegula Day.
If you didn’t know better, you’d think space was just darkness. It isn’t.
The Space Transportation System, better known as the Space Shuttle, was the most complicated machine ever constructed when first built. The first reusable spacecraft, it pushed the boundaries of American science and engineering just to get it put together. To fly required a make up wholly unknown to almost all who inhabit this place.
As a child of both the 80’s and of science and science fiction, there were no more important names to me in my early years than Enterprise, Challenger, Columbia, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour. As spacecraft, these six sisters were the stuff of legend, carrying explorers to the very edge of human knowledge. Those who rode within them were heroes.
It was impossible to spend a school year inside of a science classroom as an elementary school student at that time and not know who Sally Ride was. As the first American woman in space her place in our history was assured, but to a small boy in the suburbs that big social impact stuff seemed to fly over my head. She was in space and that was good enough for me. Sally Ride, Awesome American.
So I was sad when I heard of her passing this week. You are never quite ready for your heroes to go.
How Baseball Is Saving Me
I love baseball now, and I love it because of its pace. This makes me old. I have my reasons.
Buffalo is a city based partly upon the culture of the United States, partly on the culture of Canada, and fully on the belief that neither are particularly interested in us. These factors produce a neurosis within us. We are thin-skinned, yet quick to judge others. We profess to be good neighbors as long as we all stay within our mutually agreed upon ethnic neighborhoods. We are not so good neighbors when someone new to our fair city is unaware of these customs. We crave acceptance by larger metropoli yet revel in our unique brand of defensive provincialism. People must have strokes when they move to the Queen City. Sport is perfectly suited to a constructive release of these emotions. Sport is tribal.
But there comes a time when you kind of want everyone to shut up. As Ad-Rock once proclaimed - “I tell you everybody I’ve had it with all these people with static.” Times like when I have to read someone talking some junk about how it was really Rob Scuderi’s fault that Steve Bernier decided to fuse his face to the glass from behind. Or how the Kings making it to the final therefore means the Sabres could have. Or that Mike Richards and Jeff Carter winning the Stanley Cup as role players means that the Flyers clearly made a mistake in getting rid of them, because the Kings won the cup, you see, and everything needs to be a zero sum game even though the Flyers' goaltender looked like he was being tazed for most of his minutes. It’s enough to make you quit sports altogether.
These momentary losses of cognitive ability are not alarming on their own, but when taken as a group they begin to look more like Grandpa wandering out of the retirement home rather than simply misplacing your keys. If at any point you have found yourself agreeing with any of those three points at the same time, seek medical attention, because you may be a terrible person.
It’s easy to rag on the stupidity of most of our sports dialogue, but I would be disingenuous if I said that’s why I feel the pull of the national pastime. I’m writing about sports for Christ’s sake, what right do I have to be complaining? I’m part of the problem. The evil is inside me.
The real reason baseball has won me in a more passionate form is because I’ve got a son now, and I really need time to stop.
My kid showed up in late April. My wife was a trooper in the delivery room. That’s how Strong Island rolls.
Things don’t get real when the kid comes out, although that is pretty amazing. The real meta-action begins when the nurse takes him to the warming table and begins cleaning him, and he locks eyes with you - the first time he’s locked eyes with anything. That shit changes you. You grow up at that moment if you haven’t already.
Things were great. They even had WGN at the hospital, which was inexplicable as the hospital was in Buffalo. Regardless, we got in a Cubs game together. Well, he kind of slept while I held him and watched the Cubs game.
After a few days they sent us home. We had a hard time feeding him when we got there. The next day we got nervous and went to the pediatrician, who kept the office open after hours so we could get there. They took his temperature at 94 degrees. Then they told us to go to Children’s Hospital.
I was already in some sort of state, because when I heard that his temperature was that low I thought “well that’s totally normal” to myself. Yes, being four degrees down is totally great for a newborn. He’s running at optimal.
My wife has told me to speed exactly once in our eight years of marriage, and that was it.
I was pretty numb up until we arrived at the hospital.
SIDE NOTE THAT IS AWESOME UPON REFLECTION: I blew through red lights! I was like the crazy Steve McQueen on the wheel. When I tell my kid this story it will look something like this:
Then you get there and everyone is banged up for some reason or another, and they are all kids. There are better places to be. And I’m carrying in my son, who I’ve had for three days, and he looks so peaceful because he’s sleeping. You’d just think “oh cute kid he’s asleep.” It isn’t until you pick him up and he’s limp that you realize how close it is to all coming apart.
Having a nurse take your kid out of your arms before you know how he will be is something I do not recommend having happen to you. Time starts to drag, and all you want is for the fucking doctor to come in and say it was all a big mistake and everyone panicked. I want people to tell me I panicked. No one tells me I panicked.
We’ve been blessed with a kid whose light weight and lanky figure belies his toughness. He is most certainly tougher than his father. His father was a wreck, although I wasn’t supposed to cry because I’m the dad and I’m supposed to hold it together because everyone else is in rough shape and SOMEONE HAS TO TALK TO THE NURSE.
I swear to God the baseball part is coming soon.
Then they do bring your kid back, and you want time to freeze again. After testing him and bombarding him with enough radiation to begin activating his innate superpowers, we get the news that he is probably fine and that it was a feeding issue that no one was able to catch at the hospital before we were released. We would have to stay for a few days.
We did stay, he was fine, and they discharged us a few days after our arrival. Then I spent the next week convinced I was the worst father ever. This doesn’t require much encouragement anyway (I also had Jungleland stuck in my head at the time, and given the circumstances it was not the best Boss song to have going). So now I have this super tough kid that I’m super worried about. I needed to find a way not to panic.
That’s when baseball saved me.
I have people in my life that I care enough about to want to hang out with them. One of these friends who I did not have to pay came over not too long after we returned home and we watched the Red Sox on the NESN. He is a Sox fan, and the Cubs are banned under the Geneva Conventions. The Cubbies were blacked out for our protection by MLB.tv. It was during this game, holding my kid and just talking to someone about nothing in particular, that I realized what I had been missing in my life.
Everything about the static nature of the game gave me the time with my son I needed. Because we are an advanced and civilized nation, fathers get no assigned time to spend with their new kids beyond their own personal or vacation time. So I was back to work within two days of my son’s birth. Would’ve liked to have hung out a bit beyond seeing him with an IV in his arm. But the farther the middle class falls, the harder it works. So I work.
Baseball became, in that instant, the timekeeper. It was my safe place with my son.
I’m not going to turn into George Will or Ken Burns here. That’s not what I’m getting at. What I am trying to say, I think, is that I totally get baseball now. I fully understand its appeal to those who want so desperately for the world to fucking stop for five seconds so that they can have a moment with their son before he starts filling out college applications. The pitcher gets the signal. He winds up. He throws. Time passes slowly. We can be taken away on a voyage of mathematics and athleticism for a few hours a day. Every day is a chance for someone to beat the odds that they themselves have set. All the while, time passes slowly.
There were a brief few moments in that emergency room where I allowed for the possibility that three days would be all I was going to get with my kid. That fear has been ringing in my head like tinnitus. It's like those three days are still going, sometimes. I need to find a way to slow the world down to keep these three days going. No other sport does it quite like baseball.
There is no ulterior hipster motive going on with buying into baseball. It isn’t really even the fault of the other sports we all seem to revolve around in this Buffalo Twitterdome. There are times when those sports are the tops. There are times when the static becomes too great.
George Carlin has a famous bit about the differences between baseball and football, and it’s a funny one, but when the rest of the world is a dogfight, I think for a few hours it isn’t so bad to be safe at home.
“I think we have good players. There has to be a decision about what kind of game we’re going to play. Yeah we had our shortcomings. I think that there’s enough talent in that group of guys to be on a winning hockey club, but we didn’t get the job done and that takes some soul searching. I don’t want to waste seasons.”
“Goaltender reflects team, team reflects goaltender. You guys are writing for the fans who like to talk about hockey, and it’s always a chicken or the egg, you know whatever. It’s always about goaltending at such a high level, and a goaltender steals a game and the goaltender is the difference. Yeah, I understand that whole part of it. I also see the importance of being a complete team.”
“You have to prove you’re a good team over the course of a season. I don’t think we ever qualified and I don’t think we ever stepped up to that level we talked about.” - Ryan Miller
To listen to Ryan Miller’s end of the year press availability is to listen to the great question in Buffalo sports in the last fifteen years. How can someone so intelligent and compelling make you want to have Joe Pesci place your head in a vise? (NFSW due to Joe Pesci.)
Listening to Miller on the CBA, you can hear the articulation necessary from the players perspective to prevent getting raked over the coals again by the National Hockey League. Then you hear him talk about how the team may not have been up to the expectations of being a contender, all the while during the season claiming the team needed no change to succeed. It’s like, who are you man?
I happen to be a big fan of Ryan Miller. I believe in his competitiveness on a team that sorely lacks such emotions. Often, when things get dicey near the net, Miller is one of the first to jam a glove into someone’s craw. On the ice, his demeanor is at a minimum of a dyspeptic nature. I am also a fan of Thomas Vanek, but if Vanek were half as angry as Miller he would make the all-star team perennially and be a fixture on Coach’s Corner.
Miller’s intelligence when speaking about league-wide issues such as player safety and the labor relations between the league and its players is what that league needs more of. In a situation where you have the official dispenser of justice in the NHL giving a blank check to players to ignore rules during the playoff tournament, Miller and players like him have the ability to come to consensus and provide guidance to the league on how to avoid this crap down the road and turn the NHL from a garage league into a respected professional sport. With important players in the prime of their careers being sidelined or retired due to concussions, Miller speaks on these events wisely and with prudence (provided he isn’t the one getting hit.)
There are also negatives to Miller’s game. He has a tendency to give up weak goals at inopportune times. You don’t get the handle “Mr. Softee” without cause, and besides it being a really good derogatory nickname, he earned it. He also tends to go down too early in his stance when facing a shooter, allowing better ones to put the puck high glove side (regardless of the fact that an NHL goalie glove is the size of a sail off a yankee clipper.) His career numbers are, well, average.
The team has operated on a philosophy since the departure of Daniel Briere and Chris Drury of victory through goaltending. They could not or would not replace the scoring that left the team in their absence, or wrongly believed the team as constructed at the time could do so. Since that time, the team has had one spectacular year, one mediocre year, and three bad ones.
So as we sit here pulling our pork at teams that look way better than ours, let us ponder this enigmatic man (either after or during the pork-pulling. Your choice.) Where are we with this guy? He has played seven seasons as a Buffalo Sabre, so we should kinda know right?
Here are his rankings in each of his years as a starter in the NHL for shots against, games played, wins, save percentage, and goals against average. Minimum 1000 shots against for my convenience because it’s a nice round number. In order, it shows his statistic, the leaders in parenthesis, and Miller’s ranking in that stat. These are regular season numbers.
Miller is pretty consistent. If I had to guess right now, I’d say next year he’d have a GAA of 2.54 with a save percentage of .917. He’d get between 35 and 40 wins. He would be near, but not in, the top ten in these statistical categories.
And on average he’s playing between sixty to seventy games a year. At the end of this season there was a minor kerfuffle between internet jerkoffs (an expansive club of which we are all a member) over whether Miller should have been played every game on the way out, or if there should be a healthy rotation between Miller and Jhonas Enroth.
Games Played Versus Performance
I can’t see a correlation between games played and goals against. In fact the sample size we have shows really it doesn’t matter how many games he plays, his GAA will remain pretty close. The outlier is his Vezina year.
If he were terrible the more he played, the line would go from the top right to the bottom left. Instead you get a scatter around 2.60. Looks pretty consistent to me.
Fine I’ll do one for save percentage too.
If there was a correlation that the more games Miller played, the worse he got, the dots would appear to travel from the top left to the bottom right. Instead, you have a big scatter shot near .915.
So it looks like games it doesn’t matter with Miller. You know what you will get with the guy.
Standard Deviation In Save Percentage
Okay asshole, what about consistency game to game? How likely is it that Ryan Miller will stroke out and have a game where he ruins his team i.e. Mr. Softee style? Well that’s why the Good Lord invented mathematics. Standard deviation basically measures how varied things are between a set of data points, which in this case is save percentage. How many saves is a dude making game to game? This year Miller’s save percentage was .916. If you take every game he played and computed the standard deviation for him, it comes out to .070 percent. This means that any game he plays has a 68% chance of being either one standard deviation above or below his average percentage. On any given night, Miller might have a .980 save percentage or a .860 save percentage. That’s a wide fucking margin, kids. It’s also pretty much everyone elses.
By comparison, Henrik Lundqvist’s SD this year was .040. Mike Smith’s of Phoenix is .070. (D.E.C.I.M.A.L.S.) Seems like within a season, each player jumps around by their own tendencies. Some guys are more prone to explode in a ball of flame (Smith, Miller, Everyone) in a random game than others (Lundqvist). Tossed in, Ondrej Pavalec of the Jets, who although has a GAA at almost 3 and a save percentage below .910, still has a standard deviation of .070. There are few players who can hit that consistency within a year, let alone from year to year. Reliability in a goaltender is all relative, yo.
This is going somewhere.
So Where Does This Leave Us?
The Sabres have two goaltenders. One had to play, the other didn’t. Why?
Well, what is Enroth’s SD? He has one of, you guessed it, .070. All of this math and all of these statistics tell you that Ryan Miller is average to above average, and that Enroth is more than capable of playing a good game for you, and often. With having a similar GAA and save percentage as Miller, and being just as likely to poop the bed as Miller, all fear of playing him should melt away.
Except it doesn’t.
And this is my problem: Do the Sabres know this? We seem to be in a perpetual holding pattern, waiting for Ryan Miller to repeat his performance in the 09-10 season. The Sabres certainly seem to expect these kind of results based upon how they both speak and act. By the end of the year, it seemed like the Sabres could not afford to take Miller out of a single game, as if he was the sole reason their comeback had begun.
It was partly true. Since February 19th, when the Sabre took off like a V-2 destined for London, until March 30, when the wheels came off against Pittsburgh, Miller had a .937 save percentage with a 1.77 GAA. Those are dumb numbers. In that stretch the Sabres as a team scored just over three goals a game. In all the games that came before that, the Sabres averaged 2.36 goals a game.
What’s all this crap mean? It means the team needs to score fucking goals to win. Only six teams in the East have missed the playoffs with a positive goal differential since the lockout, and thats common sense, right? IT’S ALL COMMON SENSE. Get. Players. Who. Score.
None of these stats (and why they don’t matter) take into account the psychology of sports and the role confidence plays in the action. The Sabres need to play Miller because they believe in Miller as their goaltender. It is preached from high up in the organization and from the bench that Miller is “our guy” and needs to be ridden to the end. You say it enough times, and pretty soon you believe it, even though it isn’t true.
You can make a case that this came back to bite the Sabres in the ass at the end of the year, with Miller putting up bad games against Pittsburgh and Toronto twice. As the pressure mounted, and the games became must win, there was little chance Enroth would see the ice. The team had to play Miller because they couldn’t unlock from the single goalie philosophy. And when Miller gave up the ghost in those games, the confidence must have taken a hit. They NEEDED Miller to win the game for them. They relied on him.
Can Ryan Miller be a key player in the locker room without making him into the most important player on the team? Perhaps, and by all indications the team looks to improve on the forward ranks. The trade for Hodgson and his replacement of Gaustad, along with Tyler Ennis being placed at center indicates as much.
Hockey Rhetoric hit this best when looking over the impact of injuries on the Sabres this year and the team’s reliance on puck moving defensemen to generate offense. The Sabres now have those defensemen on the roster, when healthy. However, at forward resides the flake department. We will discuss this at the next opportunity.
For now, Miller should be good enough to win with. Others certainly have with a goalie of his ilk, but the team should not be so married to the concept of his playing as a requirement for success. Stop building the psychology for a situation that does not exist. Ryan Miller is like a bunch of other guys in the league, but a bunch of other teams in the league keep winning. If Ryan Miller is better than I am giving him credit for, it only goes further to prove how badly the team has handled the past five years.
Turns out it’s more Darcy, Lindy, and us as fans that make me want Joe Pesci to place my head in a vise.
The Defenseman is on Twitter @TheDefenseman. Give a follow and we’ll talk some tits.
The Consequences of Not Speaking
Hey y'all, Barrister here. We've got a new writer here at the Deeg and our hope is that the kid sticks around for a while because, well, he makes us all look a lot better by association. No joke. We'll work on getting him a Bio up and maybe letting him introduce himself a little formally at some point in the next week or two, but for now there are big dragons to slay and the dude brought his longsword. So, without further ado, I give you...
Ozzie Guillen, manager for the Miami Marlins, was suspended for five games by the club for comments made in praise of Fidel Castro’s ability to remain in power for as long as he did in Cuba. I think this is kinda bullshit. I’ll try to walk through it.
Sticking up for Castro in the city of Miami is a dicey proposition at best. The large Cuban community there takes Castro personally - mostly because he is the reason those folks are in the United States at all. Many of them are either first generation Cubans themselves or can talk to a Cuban who has intimate experience with Castro’s regime at dinner on any given night.
If you need a refresher on who Castro is, stop reading this and head out into the internet to find out. Also look up stuff on the Bill of Rights, political speech, federal rights versus the rights of private employers, and basic civics. I’ll wait.
Good! We can begin.
First off it should be stated that the Marlins are without a doubt within their legal right to punish Guillen. Also it goes without saying that sticking up for Castro is, um, dumb. Anyone who maintains political power through the barrel of a gun rather than through the ballot box is worthy of no praise. When you hear the stories of those who are exiled from their home, and the real pain Guillen caused them… well that pain isn’t being faked or made up.
I think where I start to get uncomfortable is when we as a society decide that people should be punished for political speech that is, and I don’t think anyone would argue this, completely allowed by the laws of the United States. The First Amendment, after all, is first for a reason. The ongoing protection of our individual political powers and liberties come from it. Without our ability to exercise our political rights through speaking, we cannot protect the others. It’s a big deal.
I’m not comfortable with the concept that a man like John Rigas has the power to determine what I can and cannot believe as a citizen of this democracy. I know plenty of people in middle and upper management. These are the fuckers we want dictating what is and isn’t acceptable political speech? What’s their motivation? It’s going to be protecting their bottom line. What I can and cannot say should not be determined by its impact on the fiscal year of Globe Corp. Our liberties were not meant to be protected by those whose interests reside not in the well-being of our nation but in the immediate wellbeing of their own pocket books, and that is exactly the world we have constructed for ourselves. Guillen was not punished because he was a threat to the security of the nation (he isn’t), or because he may discriminate against those under his charge due to his political beliefs (he did not and there is no indication he would), or that he used an ethnic slur against a group of citizens or an individual (admiring Castro’s ill-gotten longevity is not that). He expressed a stupendously dumb but nonetheless protected political opinion.
So what have people been saying about this that makes me nervous?
What he said was dumb and inflammatory.
Yep, but you are pretty much still allowed to say it. No one is making a case that he should be arrested for what he said. There is no chance he’s going to jail. I actually think that’s a pretty good standard for us to go by when evaluating whether speech should be allowed. It’s pretty free and open, you know, like liberty.
Also, this isn’t like screaming fire in a theater. These words will not directly lead to the imminent threat of harm to those within earshot.
He’s a public figure! He must be held responsible! Look what happened to Rush Limbaugh!
Limbaugh is paid exclusively to express political opinions, and was boycotted by those who disagreed with his comments. More to the point, calling a woman a slut is probably not protected political speech, even if the woman testified before Congress. (Ed. Note - On this point, people should be aware of the general rules concerning when a person is “fair game” for public criticism bordering on slander. Sandra Fluke is a private figure involved in a matter of public concern. To the extent she is fair game at all, it is only to the extent that she has purposefully interjected herself into the conversation, and only then with respect to matters that are fairly considered part of such conversation. I don’t think it takes a genius to realize that her testimony about serious medical issues did not open the door for Rush to call her a slut. But that’s just me. Carry on. – B.)
Guillen, on the other hand, is a baseball manager and was not speaking about anything relating to the on-field operations of the Marlins and violated no laws. Guillen and the Marlins may be boycotted by citizens who disagree with Guillen, and his suspension was a direct result of that threat to their financial future. But, then again, he was commenting on a famous, politically relevant world leader and he didn’t call anyone a slut.
You can’t say these things in Miami, man.
The First Amendment isn’t enforced by zip code, you asshole. Everybody gets to play everywhere by the same rules. It’s kinda how democracy works. In fact it’s crucial to a functioning democracy.
The employer has the right to protect their business.
This is true. Guillen’s comments would have the business of the Miami Marlins. Free speech has consequences right? You can say things, but people also have the right to react to them. I freely admit that this is the most compelling argument for punishing Guillen to me. It is where the intersection of those speaking and those listening meet. And, after all, businesses can hire and fire who they like, within reason.
There is a greater concern for me laying within that idea, though, as I’m curious about just what is within reason. For Guillen, there is no real danger of being unable to support his family or receive any social services should he lose his job over these comments. But this is not an isolated incident, as folks are losing their jobs every day over things they say on social media or in other public forums. In this country, your ability to attain medical care for yourself or for your family is directly related to your employment status. Employers thus have enormous leverage to discourage how people comport themselves in public. The average American would be in dire circumstances indeed should they lose their job, so it is within their best interest to shut the fuck up and not risk it.
So now we have a situation where those who can truly lose nothing for expressing their own political thoughts are those who are anonymous (Hey! That’s me!) or those who are rich enough to not care. The average Joe, with average political thoughts, would rather just avoid the possibility of trouble with their boss. The message is clear: Don’t bring politics into the workplace as an employee, nevermind that employers are attempting to get into your private stuff outside of it.
Even in a world of Twitter and social media, folks are bailing because it’s just too dangerous to their employment to be taking part. It’s common sense not to dog your employer on the Twits. However, what if that employee was just talking about what’s going on in Syria, or in Mali for example? Should the employee be disciplined just because his employer disagrees? Guillen is a public figure, sure, but not for his political views. He’s famous for managing a baseball team. What he says about Cuba should not matter. They only matter because people became angry and that’s, frankly, a pretty weak reason to restrict speech. His right to political speech is just as protected as mine, and he shouldn’t have to pay for expressing it with his job.
In the end, what will suspending Guillen do? It will probably make him shut up. Good, right? Perhaps not.
When you incentivize not participating in the political process (and - yes – exercising one’s right to free speech by expressing controversial views is absolutely part of it), you are rewarding people for not taking part in acts required for a democracy to function properly. It is almost as if we, through these free market actions, we are telling people not to participate if it comes at the risk of losing profit. You want people to be in this race, folks. When average people think that it suits them better to sit it out rather than speak up, then you start to get the abnormal people speaking up – either those who are above societal reproach for their acts (i.e. rich) or those who are so motivated by and fanatical in their views that they are compelled to act. Those folks usually reside at the extremes. But hey, free speech has its consequences, right?
And I know it’s a dicey proposition.
What if he was talking about Hitler?
Everybody always brings up Hitler as the big standard for what not to say. No love for Pol Pot? Go Hitler or go home, right?
Well the Hitler business kinda happened already. Again, dumb but protected speech. ESPN decided they didn’t need Hank Williams, Jr. because he made them look creepy.
He’s an idiot. But, he should not have been fired for that. He’s allowed to say it, even though it is extraordinarily uncomfortable. The reason I say this is because you cannot allow private employers to determine where that line is. This is why we have fucking courts. Because when you allow private firms leeway in determining political speech, even lessons in civics can get you axed.
Maybe we aren’t quite sure how this works here in a free-thinking America. We talk things out. We HAVE to talk things out. If we don’t talk we start shooting. Restricting free expression, whether by the public or private power, is the first step on the road to democratic oblivion. I’m not saying Guillen’s suspension will be the downfall of America, but do it to enough people over enough time, and eventually people stop paying attention to the political process long enough for someone to steal the fucking thing.
But doesn’t the employer have the right to hire and fire who they want?
YES! I’m not saying this is easy, or that the employer doesn’t have the legal right to do exactly what the Marlins did. Again, however, the balance between the rights of the individual and the rights of the employer is not always clear cut. At least it shouldn’t be. I’m not even sure that I’m right on any of this, but I’m nervous about it, and I’d like Guillen’s case to not be so cut and dry. Your choices should not have to be A) be a citizen and be unemployable, or B) shut your mouth and provide for a family. We should give a bigger shit about what we all are allowed to say.
Hang out with me on Twitter and we can hug this out. @TheDefenseman.
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