Since Time magazine quoted Miami Marlins Manager Ozzie Guillen saying, “I love Castro,” and expressing admiration for the Cuban dictator’s ability to stay in power and avoid attempts on his life, a firestorm has erupted in South Florida that has been covered by media all across the country. Guillen is well-known for making controversial and offensive statements, but the timing of his latest gaffe could not have been worse.
The Miami Marlins recently unveiled a new, $515 million ballpark the vast majority of which is being paid for with taxpayer money. The ball club is looking to the Cuban American community of South Florida to form a base of support for the newly branded team with the flashy, family-friendly stadium. The very people to whom Guillen’s remarks are most anathema are residents of Little Havana, the neighborhood that is home to the stadium. Heads of Cuban American organizations and various public officials have roundly condemned Guillen’s remarks since they were made public, and have demanded his resignation.
In all, it’s a perfect storm of elements that have combined to create a public relations nightmare for the Miami Marlins and Guillen. The team and its beleaguered manager held a press conference this morning to try to control some of the fallout. Less than half an hour before the press conference began, the team announced that Guillen was being suspended without pay for five games, effective immediately. Since the crisis broke, the Marlins strove to disassociate the team from the comments made by their manager, issuing strongly worded statements that completely contradict the pro-Castro sentiments from Guillen that led to this latest imbroglio.
To his credit, Guillen flew back to Miami for today’s press conference to apologize in person, at home, before the cameras. He wisely accepted responsibility for his words, a critical first step in managing a PR crisis. Ideally, he would have done so without qualification, but Guillen did continue to claim that his comments had been misinterpreted and somehow lost in translation since he and the reporter were speaking in Spanish. Guillen did say of his comments: “This is the biggest mistake I’ve made in my life,” which recognizes the severity of his missteps and the degree of pain his comments have caused within the Cuban American community. He also expressed his desire to stay in Miami for “a long time” and vowed to “do everything in my power and the Marlins’ power” to help the Cuban community. His expressions of emotion seemed heartfelt and he did have to pause at one point for a drink of water after choking up.
It remains to be seen exactly how those most offended and hurt by his Castro comments will react to today’s events. From a crisis management perspective, Guillen has now taken some of the key steps that he must in order to increase the likelihood of his weathering this storm. If his words are backed up by action, and provided he manages to keep from putting his foot in his mouth again anytime soon, Guillen and the Marlins just might be able to begin turning the page on this unfortunate chapter.