ESPN Glorifies Fidel Castro’s Love Of Sport In Tone-Deaf Remembrance Piece – Forbes
Fidel Castro was a tyrant whose oppressive regime killed thousands of Cubans and forced millions more to leave the small island nation during a refugee crisis that’s lasted more than a half-century. But in ESPN’s tone-deaf remembrance piece, Castro’s atrocities are glossed over. Instead, the WorldWide Leader focuses its efforts on glorifying the dictator’s love of sport.
The article, which was published shortly after Castro’s death Friday, paints him as a defiant strongman who agitated the United States. “In February 1959, Castro became the country’s new leader and remained in power until 2008. His socialist policies and cozy relationship with the Soviet Union led to contentious relations with the United States,” it reads. “For decades, Castro was a source of inspiration and support to revolutionaries from Latin America to Africa, even as Cubans who fled to exile loathed him with equal measure.”
There’s no mention of the firing squads that killed political rivals or forced labor camps that housed gay people. Nearly the final third of the piece is spent documenting Castro’s unwavering support for athletics. In the accompanying video, narrator Jeremy Schaap says Castro “loved sports the way he loved his Cohibas” –– a Cuban cigar brand.
It’s perfectly appropriate for ESPN to focus on the intersection between Castro and sports. But any piece that doesn’t describe the life-threatening dangers Cuban players experience during their journey to the U.S. –– or the oppression they face in their native country –– misses the mark. ESPN declined comment for this article.
Just last week, federal prosecutors described in a court document the gruesome conditions many Cuban players face when they’re trying to come to the U.S. The paperwork is for the upcoming trial of Bartolo Hernandez, who’s accused of partnering with a human-trafficking ring so he could force players to sign him as their agent. According to law enforcement officials, Hernandez and his partner cut a smuggling deal with a fellow Cuban exile who helped players flee Cuba. He brought them to Mexico on crowded boats, where they were held captive until they signed contracts with Hernandez. Ex-New York Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes is one of several players who’s expected to testify in the trial.
ESPN doesn’t have an aversion to reporting on the Cuban smuggling black market. Two years ago, it published a long piece in its magazine about Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig’s harrowing journey to the U.S. He was also held captive when his sponsor, a Cuban-born Miami resident named Raul Pacheco, was unable to meet the smugglers’ monetary demands.
Baseball is mentioned in the remembrance, but only in the context of Castro’s affection for the game and the opportunities for détente it presented in the Cuban-American relationship –– such as this year’s exhibition game between Tampa Bay Rays and Cuban national team, which President Barack Obama attended. The piece briefly mentions the influx of Cuban players who have deflected to the U.S., only saying they leave so they can earn more money. Schaap repeats this gross oversimplification in the video.