Guillen, White Sox and MLB inadvertently create a cultural PR win

The Chicago White Sox came out publicly on Monday and, as the report puts it, "backed away from their manager" with regard to his comments that Latinos aren’t given the same luxuries that Asian players (and white and black players, for that matter) are given.

The ChiSox felt Ozzie’s thoughts on the support system for Latino players are "incorrect." But that doesn’t necessarily make him wrong.

It also doesn’t make MLB or the White Sox wrong either. Let’s separate this into two parts.

Ozzie Guillen's comments created a PR opening for MLB.
Ozzie Guillen’s comments created a PR opening for MLB.

First, Guillen’s claim that the Latino players aren’t given the same help in acclimating to the game as Asian players is entirely true, but it has nothing to do with racism. It’s simple economics. The Asian players who come to play Major League Baseball have almost all been transplants from other professional leagues and have come into MLB with top-dollar price tags. In fact, because of the system in place between MLB and some Asian leagues, several players have been shipped over to America with gigantic price tags and fees, procured by secret bid, tethered to negotiation rights. This is a far cry from finding a 16-year old kid in the Dominican Republic and paying him a few thousand (or even hundred thousand) bucks to come play in the States.

The Asian players have extra help, including interpreters, because teams already have more invested in them and need them to acclimate to make the investment pay off. The minor league system, for better or worse, is constructed to weed out the players who aren’t able to make it at the highest level. In that regard, Guillen is totally right in that Latino players aren’t given the same playing field as those in the minor leagues who can speak English. It’s harder for Latin kid on his own to succeed, and near impossible for him to navigate the landscape through the minors and avoid every speed bump, including performance-enhancing drugs. So, in a way, Ozzie is right, even if the motivation behind it — or at least the juxtaposition of his point with that of Asian players — isn’t entirely fair.

Now, the second part is less about what he said and more about the process through which this situation was handled. A say-anything-he-wants coach had his annual soapbox that spread across the entire country through both tradition media outlets and social media. Everyone was, is and will be talking about Ozzie’s comments. That’s a win for him, because whether or not you agree with his assertion, he planted the seed and the debate and discourse – including the paragraphs above — are suddenly omnipresent in the industry.

The ChiSox then came out and told their own manager — and fellow member of Major League Baseball — that he’s wrong:

"Ozzie may not have been fully aware of all of the industry-wide efforts made by Major League Baseball and its clubs to help our players succeed in the transition to professional baseball, no matter the level of play or their country of origin."

It’s brilliant PR, even if the team or the league will never admit it. A very hot-button topic was brought up in a genuine setting by someone who has a close, personal investment in the situation. That person put out specific challenges to both his direct employer and the league in which they participate. That, in a way, gave the team — and league — ample opportunity to defend their own progress using this exact situation as their counterpoint example.

In other words, Guillen’s claim actually opened the door for both the White Sox and Major League Baseball to laud their own programs in a completely organic way. This isn’t a press release to pat themselves on the back. This explanation from MLB …

"Major League Baseball and the White Sox provide a number of programs to help our foreign players with acculturation, including English language classes and Spanish language presentations related to the risks of and testing for performance-enhancing drugs. The team also has Spanish-speaking staff assigned to serve as liaisons for our Latin American players."

… helps to naturally spread the word of their involvement with the Latin community in both this country and overseas. It may not have been Guillen’s intent to set them up for this PR spike. It may not have been the team’s goal to use Guillen’s comments as a catalyst for discussion, either. But it worked.

It’s the beginning of August and baseball is, for the next few weeks until football really starts going, the biggest game in town. This is the perfect time of year to discuss topics like this, and not just about the growth of the game in other countries and how that ties into the game here, but more about the programs – like the new drug testing – that are in place in the minors. It would look so disingenuous for MLB, or any league, to publicly pat themselves on the back about their advancements in cultural equality, unless they were challenged on it. And who better to make that challenge, from a PR standpoint, than one of your own out-spoken members?

We are talking about this now, which is important. But in most cases it hasn’t devolved into soapboxing that so many racial issues in sports have a tendency to become. Guillen can be unpredictable at times, but this situation – so far – is actually a PR win for everyone. Even if it may not have been intended that way.

You can read/listen to more from Dan Levy at OntheDLpodcast.com and follow him on Twitter @onthedlpodcast

The Chicago White Sox came out publicly on Monday and, as the report puts it, "backed away from their manager" with regard to his comments that Latinos aren’t given the same luxuries that Asian players (and white and black players, for that matter) are given.

The ChiSox felt Ozzie’s thoughts on the support system for Latino players are "incorrect." But that doesn’t necessarily make him wrong.

It also doesn’t make MLB or the White Sox wrong either. Let’s separate this into two parts.

Ozzie Guillen's comments created a PR opening for MLB.
Ozzie Guillen’s comments created a PR opening for MLB.

First, Guillen’s claim that the Latino players aren’t given the same help in acclimating to the game as Asian players is entirely true, but it has nothing to do with racism. It’s simple economics. The Asian players who come to play Major League Baseball have almost all been transplants from other professional leagues and have come into MLB with top-dollar price tags. In fact, because of the system in place between MLB and some Asian leagues, several players have been shipped over to America with gigantic price tags and fees, procured by secret bid, tethered to negotiation rights. This is a far cry from finding a 16-year old kid in the Dominican Republic and paying him a few thousand (or even hundred thousand) bucks to come play in the States.

The Asian players have extra help, including interpreters, because teams already have more invested in them and need them to acclimate to make the investment pay off. The minor league system, for better or worse, is constructed to weed out the players who aren’t able to make it at the highest level. In that regard, Guillen is totally right in that Latino players aren’t given the same playing field as those in the minor leagues who can speak English. It’s harder for Latin kid on his own to succeed, and near impossible for him to navigate the landscape through the minors and avoid every speed bump, including performance-enhancing drugs. So, in a way, Ozzie is right, even if the motivation behind it — or at least the juxtaposition of his point with that of Asian players — isn’t entirely fair.

Now, the second part is less about what he said and more about the process through which this situation was handled. A say-anything-he-wants coach had his annual soapbox that spread across the entire country through both tradition media outlets and social media. Everyone was, is and will be talking about Ozzie’s comments. That’s a win for him, because whether or not you agree with his assertion, he planted the seed and the debate and discourse – including the paragraphs above — are suddenly omnipresent in the industry.

The ChiSox then came out and told their own manager — and fellow member of Major League Baseball — that he’s wrong:

"Ozzie may not have been fully aware of all of the industry-wide efforts made by Major League Baseball and its clubs to help our players succeed in the transition to professional baseball, no matter the level of play or their country of origin."

It’s brilliant PR, even if the team or the league will never admit it. A very hot-button topic was brought up in a genuine setting by someone who has a close, personal investment in the situation. That person put out specific challenges to both his direct employer and the league in which they participate. That, in a way, gave the team — and league — ample opportunity to defend their own progress using this exact situation as their counterpoint example.

In other words, Guillen’s claim actually opened the door for both the White Sox and Major League Baseball to laud their own programs in a completely organic way. This isn’t a press release to pat themselves on the back. This explanation from MLB …

"Major League Baseball and the White Sox provide a number of programs to help our foreign players with acculturation, including English language classes and Spanish language presentations related to the risks of and testing for performance-enhancing drugs. The team also has Spanish-speaking staff assigned to serve as liaisons for our Latin American players."

… helps to naturally spread the word of their involvement with the Latin community in both this country and overseas. It may not have been Guillen’s intent to set them up for this PR spike. It may not have been the team’s goal to use Guillen’s comments as a catalyst for discussion, either. But it worked.

It’s the beginning of August and baseball is, for the next few weeks until football really starts going, the biggest game in town. This is the perfect time of year to discuss topics like this, and not just about the growth of the game in other countries and how that ties into the game here, but more about the programs – like the new drug testing – that are in place in the minors. It would look so disingenuous for MLB, or any league, to publicly pat themselves on the back about their advancements in cultural equality, unless they were challenged on it. And who better to make that challenge, from a PR standpoint, than one of your own out-spoken members?

We are talking about this now, which is important. But in most cases it hasn’t devolved into soapboxing that so many racial issues in sports have a tendency to become. Guillen can be unpredictable at times, but this situation – so far – is actually a PR win for everyone. Even if it may not have been intended that way.

You can read/listen to more from Dan Levy at OntheDLpodcast.com and follow him on Twitter @onthedlpodcast

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