Chomp Le Monde

Luis Suárez is a jerk, a jester and a breathtaking soccer player. We should let him be all of these things at once. (USA TODAY Sports)

Luis Suárez is a jerk, a jester and a breathtaking soccer player. We should let him be all of these things at once. (USA TODAY Sports)

There is something about biting. It’s more ignominious than an elbow or a trip. Perhaps it’s the animal stupidity involved. There’s no deceptively casual way of going about it. We can watch several replays of a rough tackle and not be entirely sure how much the recipient is actually hurting because, sure, he caught a few studs to the calf, but wasn’t it the calf he isn’t clutching? When Uruguay’s Luis Suárez weaponizes his mouth, we recognize it instantaneously because the reaction is not practiced theatricality so much as what the hell? followed by did this cretin just bite me? Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini was the third such player to experience this on Tuesday. He was spooked, then indignant, then perhaps struck by how weird it was that Suárez didn’t elect for a more civil form of pain infliction like, say, kicking Chiellini in the achilles.

This would all be funnier — and let’s be clear: it’s still very funny — if Suárez were an unhinged savant whose only remarkable traits were intermittent and sudden urges to use his largish teeth as a competitive advantage and an ability to score goals from unlikely angles, but as the old Charrúa proverb goes: “He who tastes the flesh of another man without even asking is probably also a jerk in a bunch of other ways.” And Suárez is. Relatively low on the list of reasons to hate him is that he’s an importunate on-pitch presence — diving, hectoring referees, committing minor assaults behind the play — but then there was that time he racially insulted Patrice Evra. Then, when Evra tried to be the bigger man — he said to the press he didn’t think Suárez was a racist — Suárez refused to acknowledge Evra in a pregame handshake line and seemed to believe he had a right to be upset with Evra for getting him in trouble with the FA.

After being given a couple hours to collect his thoughts, Suárez described his mid-game snack as just “something that [happens] on the pitch” and implored fans and the media to “not make such a big deal out of [it].” He doesn’t think he did anything particularly heinous. He was jockeying for position inside the box and kinda sorta clamped his canines into Chiellini’s shoulder. He was trying to provoke the Italian into fouling him (or something). It was a tactic, not a transgression. Soccer, like any game that’s governed chiefly by a referee’s sensibilities, has many line-steppers — see: Pepe when he’s up against a striker who isn’t afraid of him — but Suárez has a unique understanding of the laws of the jungle, and his understanding that is there are no laws; this is a jungle, after all, and I will fight you with everything I have. It’s Jordanesque hyper-competitiveness taken to its logical extreme. It’s almost admirable, until you see it in practice and realize it’s buffoonish.

Suárez should miss the rest of the World Cup and probably will. (Early Wednesday morning, FIFA officially opened disciplinary proceedings against Suarez.) ESPN’s postgame coverage with Roberto Martinez and Ruud van Nistelrooy featured some serious-faced and unequivocal judgments that this absolutely needs to happen, because there’s no place for biting in our game, etc. I’m not sure who decided analysts must always meet these sorts of episodes with graveness and calls to action, like they’re talking about a civil rights injustice, but that is lamentably the way things are, and anyway, Martinez and van Nistelrooy are wrong. There is a place in the game for Luis Suárez. His talent creates one. Liverpool have been fielding transfer offers for him since shortly after he arrived at Anfield, and the enquiries aren’t likely to stop. (Though that rumored Barcelona switch is in jeopardy now. Cannibalism and Catalanisme don’t mesh.) Suárez will be suspended by FIFA, then return to Europe and score 30 goals next season. His mania is an ant beneath the monster truck tires of his skill.

Brian Phillips wrote a piece on Suárez last year that was mostly about how fans have trouble processing great athletes who do bad things. We want to think every accomplished player is Derek Jeter, classily sexing the female population of lower Manhattan and being purposefully boring in interviews, because then we can link their on-field success with a certain being-deep virtuousness. Most great athletes thwart this desire simply by being human and screwing up publicly in typically human ways. They reveal themselves to be capable of hubris or cynicism or unflattering drunkenness. Hopefully what we do, when we realize athletes have flaws and most of them aren’t all that egregious, is give up the dumb dream of sports purity and start thinking of athletes merely as people with culturally important jobs as opposed to monks with above-average leaping ability.

Knowing the simple truth that athletes are ordinary in a lot of ways is a key to understanding them better, but what about Suárez, the metaphorical and actual devourer of defenders? He doesn’t do normal bad things, and he does them with disconcerting regularity. He is a menace, a clown and a breathtaking goal-scorer. Maybe our mistake is in trying to mash these three concepts together and to deliver judgment on that Frankenstein of personas. We are fans and so have certain privileges that Suárez’s friends and colleagues don’t. We can compartmentalize him. We can love the art, hate the artist, or, alternatively, love the art, find the artist abjectly hilarious and not a little disgusting.

Luis Suárez is someone to reckon with and do work on — the right sort of obsessive could write a long and difficult book about What He Means — but we don’t always want sports to be intellectually taxing or morally fraught, especially when we’re in a match’s thrall. This doesn’t mean we need to watch like a stupid person might. Instead, we must be able to hold discreet ideas in our minds simultaneously. Surely, we’re smart enough to enjoy Suárez — to like him, in a way — and to also know he’s a spectacular jackass. We can try to make sense of Suárez as a figure in our spare time, but when he’s on the pitch, he’s a necessarily less complicated entity. He makes us feel things with his powerful right foot and slapstick aggression. This is nothing to experience guilt over. We are fans. To us, this is what he’s there for.

18 thoughts on “Chomp Le Monde

  1. This is the third time that Suarez has bitten another player:in Holland he was suspended for 7 games in 2010, in England he was suspended for 10 games in 2013; the eyes of the world are now on FIFA to see what they will do.

  2. This guy has had many very long bans for biting and racism. Last world cup committed a deliberate handball that knocked out Ghana. I would be very surprised if he doesnt get a long ban that includes all football.

    • A deliberate handball that saved his team and enabled them to advance…one of the best heads-up plays in recent memory. What would you have him do, allow Ghana to score?

      • Actually, John, in reality, yes, he should have let him score. Avoiding a loss or elimination is hardly just cause for a deliberate infraction. It’s called playing with honor and propriety. Something sorely lacking in a lot of sports these days.

        • Dude, you get goaltending calls in the NBA all the time, pitchers deliberately beaning batters in the head in MLB every week, hockey players slashing each other in the NHL and you are seriously questioning a handball in a soccer match? Get a grip, you’re turning into some kind of ridiculous self rightous bonehead!

          • Ah, name calling. Classy, Edu. Clearly you can’t have a discussion and disagree with someone without resorting to making personal attacks. I could do the same, but I am capable of having a conversation like a civilized adult.

            Yes, pitchers do deliberately bean batters in baseball, and in hockey players slash each other. That doesn’t make it acceptable, just like a handball in soccer is not allowed. By the way, players often get penalized for slashing and pitchers have been known to be tossed from games for intentionally hitting a batter.

            As for goaltending in basketball, that one is a bit more of a grey area, as you are supposed to use your hands, and sometimes it is clearly a violation and other times accidental. The same argument could be made for some slashes in hockey when a player is scrambling to get the puck and unintentionally slashes or trips an opponent.

            On the pitch, you are never supposed to use your hands unless you are the goaltender, so Suarez would have no reason to use his hands other than an intentional violation of the rules. Furthermore, when it is done during a critical point in the game and possibly changes the outcome of said game, and in the case of the match against Ghana, result in a team’s elimination from a tournament, it becomes more of an issue.

            And, if my preference for a game to be played with honor, honesty, integrity and propriety makes me a bonehead, then so be it. Personally, I prefer to see players play by the rules as opposed to having no rules. Maybe that would be more your style. I don’t know. To me, it takes more skill to win without cheating than it does to win by playing dirty. Then again, what do I know, I’m just a bonehead, right?

          • Jeff, you seem to be confusing two separate discussions.
            Edu’s point is that violent conduct is a more serious offence than handball. Many would agree with that idea.
            The laws of any sport may be breached deliberately, recklessly or accidentally. In some cases the sanction for an offence may vary according to whether the officials deem the breach to be deliberate or not; in other cases the argument is only about morality. I can think of no sporting contests whose outcomes are decided on the basis of morality.
            The laws of football define the offence as deliberate handball; within those laws, Suarez’ blatant handball is/was no worse than any other occurrence, even though it had a major effect on the game. FWIW, in practice handball is given for deliberate, reckless and accidental occurrences; the judgement criteria would be better described by the words ‘avoidable’ and ‘material’.

        • Jeff,
          Sorry about the bonehead comment, more an attempt at bad humor than an insult in itself.
          Of course the handball is illegal and it was duly penalized: a penalty kick was awarded, Suarez was sent off and suspended for the next game, leaving Uruguay shorthanded form thr semifinal match. If Gyan had converted the penalty kick the game was over and probably all of this would be forgotten, it is the fact tha he missed it and Uruguay won on the shootout that made it memorable.
          I dont condone violence in the sport and agree that Suarez should be penalized for this latest incident as well, biting an opponent is completely off the wall, however there were many more violent and dangerous instances in the game that the referee also missed that FIFA would do well to look at and take similar action….or no action at all is ok for the italian that kicked the uruguayan player full speed in the head??

          • Edu,
            No worries. Tone and sentiment are often hard to convey online. Things would get pretty bulky and hard to read if we wrote those in with everything we wrote too. I agree with you completely about the violence. So much does get missed or possibly ignored. I can’t tell you what the refs actually see and what they don’t. The incident you mentioned involving the Italian player should also be investigated, as an act like that is not acceptable.

            Also, it looks like they did hand down a suspension for Suarez’s actions. Something tells me that it won’t be the last time though. He seems to play with such passion that he loses sight of what is acceptable at times. Not condoning the actions, but I think that’s why he does it.

        • Sorry, Jeff, but I disagree. The name of the game is to win. While I wasn’t a fan of the Suarez handball, he did what he had to do. It should have merely staved off the inevitable, but Ghana missed the PK and Uruguay moved on. He committed an infraction, was penalized for it, but Ghana did not capitalize as it should have. That’s on them. You say you want the game played with honor, integrity and a bunch of other adjectives, but players dive all the time and embellish the fouls commited against them. There is no honor or integrity in that, yet it happens multiple times in every game.
          Also, you called a goalkeeper a “goaltender,” so I’m leaning towarsd you being a bonehead than a real soccer fan. Enjoy the knockout stage.

          • Alright, Tim, the name of the game is to win. You’ve clearly shown you condone a handball in soccer to avoid being scored on, though admit you weren’t a fan of the action. So, let’s say we’re looking at hockey. Would you condone a trip on a breakaway to avoid the opposing team from possibly scoring? I mean, anything to win, right? You said it yourself.

            As for Ghana not capitalizing, and it being on them, I completely agree with you. If a team fails to capitalize on an opportunity given to them, they only have themselves to blame.

            Yes, I do believe games should be played with such “adjectives,” as you put it, as honor and integrity. I don’t see anything wrong with that. But you are correct, dives are extremely common, and so is overacting, especially in soccer. Attempting to draw the foul is all too common and I would say it falls into the realm of playing dirty. As much as I want sports and athletes to exhibit positive values in their play, I know in reality it is just a pipe dream.

            Lastly, just because I referred to the goal keeper as a goal tender doesn’t make me a bonehead. Am I a real soccer fan? No, I’ll be honest, I’m not. However, I can be a casual fan. I have a much greater interest in hockey, baseball and American football. Doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy a soccer match from time to time, or take part in conversations about the sport, especially during the World Cup. My motivation for commenting in the first place stemmed from reading this article, whose link I found on MLB.com, which brought me here. No matter which sport, a biting infraction is still a shocking and noteworthy infraction.

            Either way, enjoy the rest of the World Cup.

  3. What gets me the most out of this article is the sense of admiration that seems to be provided by Mr. McGowan on behalf of Suarez’s blatant infraction. It really is hard to take Suarez seriously when he says it’s part of the game. I’ve never known any sport to include biting as part of the game. It seems most players don’t have such a penchant for cannibalism. Since they can restrain from “freeing the beast” on the pitch, surely Suarez can too. The world of soccer has been too lenient on Suarez thus far, if you ask me. At this point, I think a “three strikes and you’re out” rule should be applied. Maybe he can find a job doing bite tests on mouth guards once he’s banned from all of soccer.

  4. You are wrong and the analysts are right. Suarez has disgraced the game on its biggest stage. There is no need for him in soccer, regardless of how many teams want him. He should be banned for life, just like hockey players who hit people over the head or in the face with their sticks should be. Suarez is merely an ant beneath the monster truck tires of his sport. He wouldn’t be missed.

  5. Whilst I don’t condone for one moment what Suarez may have done, it is worth noting that Chiellini is absolutely not an innocent victim. He spent the entire match niggling and provoking Suarez, pushing and shoving him, holding him back, delivering sly little kicks and so on – this is his normal method of treating opponents and it goes largely unpunished because no one incident is particularly severe, even though the cumulative effect is large. I would be very pleased if FIFA suddenly developed a proper sense of justice and punished both men for their actions, but I’m not holding my breath.
    There is a simple explanation for the two apparently contradictory sides to Suarez. He is an emotional man and a perfectionist who plays with extreme, manic commitment to his team’s cause; it is this fervour which both inspires the brilliance and disables his self-control mechanisms. In Freudian terms, the super-ego is swamped by the id running amok.

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  7. Once again an article that has nothing to do about baseball….this is the MLB site isn’t it?