Ozzie Guillen has built a reputation as someone who says what he thinks, consequences be damned. That trait showed itself again during a recent interview with Time magazine, where Guillen spoke favorably of Fidel Castro, stating that he “loved” and “admired” him. These comments were not well-received in Miami, a city that is literally filled with Cuban refugees who feel something other than love and admiration for Castro.
As the manager of a professional baseball team in a city full of Cuban people, Ozzie should have known better. As Ozzie Guillen, purveyor of controversial soundbites, he should have realized that this is one thing he should not have said. But he said it, the Marlins suspended him for it, and now he will try to rebuild a deeply fractured relationship with the Latino community of Miami. Ozzie, it seems, is not “one of us” after all.
There are some who have objected to Ozzie’s suspension, appealing to the First Amendment’s protection of a basic right to free speech. Thus, in addition to provocative soundbites, Ozzie has also given us an opportunity for a civics lesson.
While the First Amendment does protect people like Ozzie from persecution by state and federal governments, it does not prohibit the Marlins from punishing Ozzie for his words. Ozzie cannot be put in jail for being a Cuban sympathizer, or for simply sounding like one. But that is the extent of the protections provided to Ozzie Guillen by the First Amendment.
For the Marlins, this was obviously a business decision. They are trying to succeed in a market that is heavily populated with people who were directly affected, in a negative way, by Castro’s government. It simply makes good business sense to come down hard on Ozzie, to indicate to their fan base that such comments will not be tolerated. None of this is a violation of Ozzie’s constitutional rights.
In other cases, the lines are a bit blurrier. Suppose I feel that homosexuality is morally wrong, and I incorporate this point of view into my lecture materials for an introduction to ethics course that I am teaching. Should the First Amendment protect this speech act too? On the one hand, we might think this is just like the Ozzie Guillen case–I can’t be put in jail, but my employer can fire or discipline me. On the other hand, if my employer is a large state university, then I effectively work for the government, and any sanctioning on their part would appear to count as government-sponsored sanctioning.
The point is just this. Ozzie Guillen can be suspended by the Marlins, without a violation of his First Amendment rights, because the Marlins are clearly not a government entity. But in the public sector, where lines are blurrier, it is much less clear what the First Amendment ought to protect. It doesn’t protect the employees of privately-owned corporations from sanctions by their employer. Beyond that, the discussion remains surprisingly open.
About the Author
Elijah Weber is a graduate student at Bowling Green State University. He holds a Master's degree in philosophy from Colorado State University, and Bachelor’s degrees in sociology and philosophy from Chapman University. He currently lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with his wife Laura, his son Brandon, and two cats.