Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Social Norms and Sports Governance

UPDATE: Petrino was fired (after additional allegation surfaced) and Guillen was not -- go figure;-)

It has long been appreciated that governance is not just about rules, policies and procedures. Social norms also shape our behavior. As one recent academic discussion explains (PDF):
Social norms are customary rules of behavior that coordinate our interactions with others. . . This definition covers simple rules that are self-enforcing at a primary level, such as which hand to extend in greeting or which side of the road to drive on, and more complex rules that trigger sanctions against those who deviate from a first-order rule.
We see norms in action in two situations currently in the news.  In the first, Florida Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen has gotten himself into some hot water over comments he made about Fidel Castro:
The Miami Marlins have suspended manager Ozzie Guillen for five games for comments he made in which he expressed admiration for Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

"The Marlins acknowledge the seriousness of the comments attributed to Guillen," the team said in a prepared statement announcing the move. "The pain and suffering caused by Fidel Castro cannot be minimized especially in a community filled with victims of the dictatorship."

Marlins bench coach Joey Cora will be the interim manager during the suspension.
What does a baseball manager's views on Cuban politics have to do with the hit and run, you might ask?  Well nothing, but baseball teams are part of the broader community, and in this case, a Florida community with intense passions about Cuba. Guillen violated social norms.

According to ESPN, MLB supported the suspension:
In a prepared statement, baseball commissioner Bud Selig said MLB supported the suspension. He said baseball as an institution has "important social responsibilities," and he expects those representing the game to show respect and sensitivity to its many cultures.

"Guillen's remarks, which were offensive to an important part of the Miami community and others throughout the world, have no place in our game," Selig said.
In anther recent situation, the University of Arkansas head football coach Bobby Petrino has been suspended after he crashed his motorcycle. The crash was not  not the problem, it was the fact that he lied about having a 25 year-old staff member along for the ride -- one whom he suggested that he had a previous inappropriate relationship.
The Washington Post reports:
Bobby Petrino’s fate as head football coach at Arkansas remains up in the air one week after he crashed his motorcycle and attempted to cover-up a “inappropriate relationship” with a 25-year-old female employee.

Now Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long faces the unenviable decision of whether to retain Petrino and risk ridicule for appearing to condone his conduct, or terminate him and risk revolt from the Razorbacks fanbase.
Social norms are obviously an important part of governance.  The two cases discussed here show that positive comments about Fidel Castro are deemed sanctionable whereas lying and adultery may not be subject to sanctions. Given this diversity, it should be no surprise that those interested in the effective governance sporting organizations cannot depend upon social norms as the basis for motivating reform.


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