During the September 15 matchup between his Toronto Blue Jays and the Boston Red Sox, Major League Baseball player Yunel Escobar walked onto the field displaying a homophobic slur on his eye black, causing public uproar. Escobar has since publically apologized and claimed he did not mean to offend anyone by using the Spanish term for “faggot."
“For [Latinos], it doesn't have the significance to the way it's being interpreted now," he said. "It's a word without a meaning.’"
Although this word may not be offensive in his culture, Escobar is living and working in America and must treat American culture and social norms with respect. Social norms are laws that govern society’s behavior, relative to the culture in which a social interaction is taking place. In American culture, it is considered a social norm to not publically display or use language that may be offensive to a certain individual or group. “Faggot,” the rough translation of the word Escobar wrote on his face, is a derogatory term for a homosexual.
Some social norms can be enforced through sanctions. The MLB organization bans derogatory symbols and words on uniforms so as part of his punishment; Escobar will not see any playing time in his team’s next three games. He will also have to undergo sensitivity training and participate in a public outreach program that promotes tolerance.
Social norms serve as important agents in social control and only if they are properly respected can society maintain order. Although Escobar was exercising the right to free speech (granted to anyone in America under the U.S. Constitution), his words referenced a sensitive cultural topic (homosexuality). Given the reaction of the offended community, Escobar’s punishment was absolutely justifiable and necessary to maintain order in society.
In April, the MLB suspended Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen for five games after he enraged the Miami Cuban exile community by announcing that he, “loved Fidel Castro.” The former Cuban dictator is known for his human rights violations, suppression of free speech, and horrific acts of violence towards Cuban political dissidents that still continue today under the regime of his brother, Raúl. Guillen addressed a different topic that was sensitive to a different culture, but violated the same American social norm.
All humans over the course of their lives learn when and where it is appropriate to say certain things, to use certain words, to discuss certain topics or wear certain clothes – and when it is not. These lessons are relative to the social norms created by each culture. Social norms are equally as important and valuable as any written laws. Both help maintain social order. If that order is threatened, the culprit must be punished accordingly.