Monday, June 26, 2006

Duquenal, Ozzie Guillen, the White Sox and the Chicago Tribune

One great thing about blogging, once you get accidentally known from your work and consistency, is that it gets you to places you would have never thought your name would appear, such as the sports pages of the Chicago Tribune.

Apparently Ozzie, the beloved baseball star of Venezuela and now the successful manager of the White Sox (note: I am a Red Sox "light" fan) has qualified a sports journalist giving him a bad review with a pejorative homosexual epithet (observe how P.C. I am :) )

Last Friday I received a call from the writer of the article below, David Haugh. As a dutiful journalist he was checking on the validity of the "cultural" excuse advanced by Guillen and he run across my blog. Sure enough I told him that the excuse of Guillen was at best partially valid but that in public, in front of the press, no one in Venezuela today would use such epithets (unless you are the totally discredited mayor at large of Caracas, Juan Barreto, who might have some serious repressed homophobia and shows it by questioning the masculinity of whomever disagrees with him).

The article appeared today (registration needed, thus the complete post). It is a long one and a fun one to read actually. But if you are pressed for time you can go to the last part and check the text in blue, my modest contribution to Ozzie. I hope he forgives me if I did not back him, but then again I did not sink him, we are all so proud of him, even if he is a closeted chavista.

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Advice from the pros
Experts in human relations say it's wrong for Ozzie Guillen to blame his outbursts on cultural differences

By David Haugh
Tribune staff reporter
Published June 25, 2006

A police car passed the Guillen home in Venezuela the exact time young Ozzie was feeling the wrath from his father the way dads used to discipline their sons in his country.

The car stopped.

"My dad was hitting me," the White Sox manager recalled Friday. "And the police go by and say, `Hit him harder.' Here, you go to jail or they call you a child-abuser. It's a different way."

Guillen mined his memory for this childhood example to make a point, not a plea.

He might be 42 and in the middle of his 25th baseball season in America, but part of him never will outgrow the tough lessons learned growing up poor in Ocumare del Tuy, Venezuela.

He still thinks like the street-smart teenager who developed survival instincts that made him an All-Star shortstop and World Series-winning manager.

Unfortunately for the White Sox, occasionally Guillen still talks like that kid, too, a point a panel of experts the Tribune contacted found as troubling as many others in the city.

"I learn from the streets the language I have and I'm sorry my language is not better," Guillen said. "[But] when you put a guy who never went to high school to manage a big-league club . . . " He shrugged his shoulders.

Guillen has been in Chicago long enough to know that describing cultural differences to rationalize labeling Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti with a homosexual slur will sound more like an excuse than an explanation.

To Guillen, however, the American-Venezuelan divide comes closest to explaining the truth about what sparked one of his most controversial weeks on the job.

Between alienating Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan badly enough for Duncan to call him a liar on the radio and annoying Astros manager Phil Garner to the point Garner suggested he seek therapy, Guillen called Mariotti a word he said meant coward back home.

He later apologized for offending homosexuals and anybody else bothered by his choice of words.

"The one thing about the language in the U.S. that's kind of hard [is] you talk about religion you get in trouble, you talk about politics you get in trouble, you talk about country you get in trouble," Guillen said.

"There are so many things you can get in trouble, you have to be careful what you say, especially when you talk to the media every day."

Especially because Guillen has become the biggest lightning rod in a major-league dugout, electricity that only figures to intensify with the City Series resuming Friday at Wrigley Field.

By then, he may or may not have completed the sensitivity training Commissioner Bud Selig ordered as part of the league's reprimand. Guillen doesn't sound too willing to comply.

"What does sensitivity mean? Seriously," Guillen said, laughing. "I'm not a kid. I'm 42 years old. I know what I have to do in this life. I have two kids in college. I have a good family and do a lot of good things.

"Unfortunately, because one thing I say, my career's going down? No, I'm going to [stay] the same guy."

If he does, even general manager Ken Williams acknowledged Guillen's career might not last as long as it could with slight behavior modification. Williams cut short a trip last week to address Guillen's latest flare-up because he feared his manager was "going down a road that does not necessarily lend itself to longevity."

He basically told a contrite Guillen to watch his mouth.

"I didn't really have to discuss anything with him in depth because of the remorse he showed me, not toward the source of his target of his criticism, but in his choice of language," Williams said.

Other professionals in other fields also had advice for Guillen.

The sensitivity specialist

Allison West would begin her session with Guillen with the conversational equivalent of a fastball under the chin.

"I'd say, `My understanding is if you do anything like this again, you'll be fired, so how can I help you avoid that?"' said West, a nationally renowned expert in workplace relations from Employment Practices Specialists in Pacifica, Calif.

West has conducted seven sensitivity-training sessions this year with a variety of executives, one-on-one conferences that usually last six to 10 hours over three meetings.

The topics range from improper language to inappropriate touching. West usually to recount the behavior that started the process.

"It's a discussion," West said. "And it's important the White Sox take this seriously because there might be someone in that locker room who doesn't like that kind of talk but is afraid to say something. He should know better."

The sports psychotherapist

In jest, Garner suggested Guillen needs the kind of professional help in which psychotherapist Casey Cooper specializes: bringing athletes and coaches back to earth by talking them down.

"We build and build and build them up and act surprised when they say something that has gone too far," said Cooper, who specializes in athletics at South County Psychotherapy in Laguna Niguel, Calif.

"It's very difficult balancing a persona in the athletic arena with the rest of society. We try. Only the most sensitive and gifted people get good at it."

Cooper doesn't know Guillen, but, based on his comments, she doubts the Sox manager belongs to that group. She called the slur made to Mariotti, "the most powerful insult in sports" without realizing its hurtful power beyond the locker room.

"For people to change, they have to truly desire to change," Cooper said.

The Venezuelan blogger

Daniel Duquenal, a biochemist in Yaracuy considered one of Venezuela's best-known cultural bloggers, doesn't buy Guillen's explanation about the differences in the cultural interpretation of the slur.

"In some Venezuelan social circles, it means `jerk' and maybe you could say it in Spanish to a group of friends but never in public," said Duquenal, who spent 17 years living on the U.S. East Coast as a scientist before returning home.

Had Guillen uttered something similar in Venezuela, Duquenal said he thought the reaction would have been as critical--but probably quieter.

"You cannot say what he said--in the United States or in Venezuela," he said. "If Ozzie had been in the U.S. two or three years, yes, maybe, because of where he came from. But he has been there more than 20 years, so he should apologize [to Mariotti] and let it go."

The media guru

The next time Guillen comes close to offering a blunt assessment of someone or something he despises, Sue Castorino offers a suggestion.

"Go in a private place, let out a primal scream and come out publicly and think about everyone out there who will hear what you have to say," said Castorino, president of The Speaking Specialists, a Chicago-based media training group that deals with professional sports teams.

Castorino cautions athletes and coaches "the media always is going to get the last word." So consider every reporter a conduit to the public rather than a pain the neck.

"I'd tell Ozzie the same thing we tell everybody: Don't miss out on any opportunity to talk to everybody when you talk to one reporter, and don't make it personal," Castorino said. "Think about the whole public image."

The advice columnist

If syndicated advice columnist Amy Dickinson receives a letter from Jolted Jay in Chicago complaining about being publicly dissed by a famous baseball manager, Dickinson knows the tack she would take.

First, she would criticize Guillen for not knowing nuance better after two decades in the U.S. She would question the team's role in not making Guillen more equipped with his language that is parsed every day.

"To remove any doubt, he needs to be educated--right now," said Dickinson, whose column runs in the Tribune.

She called the slur "intolerable" and blamed Guillen's spate of outbursts on hubris.

"How many times can you hear, `Let Ozzie be Ozzie?"' Dickinson said. "Once you hear that, it has gone on too long. I don't know if you can teach someone to be sensitive, but you can teach someone to be professional."

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