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.
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.
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.