Upon the death of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, many mainstream media outlets and sports pages happily denoted his wonderful devotion to the sport of baseball. But few noted how he used the sport like he used everything else, as a weapon to oppress his people and promote his own desires.
In the days after Castro finally died after a 47-year reign of terror over his island nation, many sports writers and media outlets quickly wrote about Castro’s well-known love for baseball. ESPN, for instance, lauded Castro for recognizing “the potential benefits of national excellence in athletics and Cuba eventually became one of the strongest sporting nations in the world.”
The New York Times also celebrated Castro’s love for baseball quoting a sports historian as saying, “One got the sense with East Germany, for example, that it really was a question of propaganda and that government officials didn’t have that obsession with sport itself that Fidel Castro did.”
For its part, Newsday published a story happily noting that Castro “excelled at baseball,” though it did note that Castro cut his nation’s players off from reaching higher levels in the sport.
In another case, The Wire chirped that “in the realm of sport, there was more to Fidel Castro than rigid communism.”
One writer, though, properly noted that Castro used baseball against his people just like he did everything else, as a weapon of control.
In his November 28 piece, NBC Sports writer Craig Calcaterra properly noted that “Castro unquestionably used baseball for propaganda purposes.”
Calcaterra went on to inform readers of Castro’s use of baseball as a tool of oppression.
“The institution Castro created has led to some Cuban-born players making millions,” Calcaterra wrote, “but it also put them in a position where their choices were few and the making of them led to suffering. For others, it put their very lives risk. For others still, it made them victims of human trafficking or extortion plots or worse.”
Calcaterra sadly noted that the Cuban dictator used baseball “as a lever to control them and their loved ones.”
Finally, Calcaterra criticized those who would spin gossamer tales of Castro’s love for baseball without also relating how he abused the sport for his evil ends.
“As with almost everything about Castro’s legacy, there are elements of his baseball legacy which someone, if they were so inclined, could point to and characterize as a positive thing. But to do so without including the oppression and brutality of Castro’s autocratic regime is to fail to tell the whole story,” Calcaterra said. “Nothing occurs in a vacuum and, by definition, no dictator’s ends are achieved without tyranny, thus tainting those ends. Tallying pros and cons is an exercise in false equivalency when the cons are counted in human lives.”
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.