Clean Slate

Our firm specializes in crisis management and training spokespersons to efficiently convey their message to the media, or Media Training. However, if the Miami Marlins baseball team called on us to manage the crisis brought about by their manager, Ozzie Guillén, our answer would have to be: “Up till now you have handled the situation poorly. Regardless, we’re sorry but this situation is unfixable. The only solution is to clean the slate and, also, do it as quickly as possible.”

For those who may not be aware of it, Ozzie Guillén, a 48 year old US citizen born in Venezuela, told Time Magazine that “I love Fidel Castro… I respect Fidel Castro, you know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that… is still here.” Guillén also used a profanity that was most inappropriate for someone who not only represents a professional sports franchise but also a city: Miami.

We’re in a country where freedom of speech is respected. Anyone has the right to say his or her opinion and defend it in public. However, it’s clear that praising Fidel Castro in a city like Miami, the capital of the Cuban diaspora, doesn’t precisely show great sensibility towards the city’s Cuban community.

On the other hand, just like Guillén can have an opinion, that’s also a right of Miami’s Cuban community. Especially if we take into account that it is the citizens of Miami who buy tickets to see the Marlins play. And that doesn’t take into account the $487 million in public funds spent to build their stadium which, likewise, were paid by taxpayers. Paradoxically, a stadium located in the very heart of Little Havana, one of the most emblematic places for Cuban exiles.

The Marlin organization distanced itself from his comments and suspended Guillén for five games, adding that his salary for those days would be donated to charitable organizations. Guillén held a press conference where he apologized and said that his comments were misunderstood.

Time Magazine isn’t a second-rate publication. It is one of the most important media organizations in the world. I just can’t believe that it’s reporters would publish something like this, knowing the controversy it would stir-up, if they didn’t have concrete proof of these having been Guillén’s exact comments. If they had distorted the manager’s comments, I assume that Time would be sued for millions of dollars for seriously damaging Guillén’s image and career.

In any crisis where an organization or a person have made a mistake, asking for forgiveness is the first step to beginning to resolve the crisis. However, in this case, I don’t think it will solve anything. First of all, Guillén apologized but never rectified his opinion of Castro. However, even if he said today that Castro is a dictator, his words would probably not be seen as credible by Miami’s Cuban community. They’d likely be perceived as an attempt to hold on to his job and his $10 million salary. Secondly, his body language during the press conference didn’t seem to match with what he was saying. It’s important to remember that 80% of someone’s credibility is conveyed by their body language and not the actual message.

On the other hand, the sanction imposed by the Marlins is probably hurting rather than helping them. It seems clear that Guillén has lost the Cuban community’s support, a fundamental fan base for the team. The longer they take to decide to get rid of this manager, the more damage it will do to their relationship with this Cuban community. Guillén has every right to give his opinion and the Marlins also have every right to fire him if they realize that they have lost the support of the community they represent.

 In circumstances such as this one, Media Training or crisis management have very limited value. Guillén also faces another problem because now he can’t make anybody happy. Not Miami’s Cuban community nor Fidel Castro’s supporters. The first because he offended them and the others because of his attempt to take back what he said.

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