Recently, my 19-month-old toddler has started to act out. He started to chomp everything – his father, his mother, his stuffed animals – I suppose anything that’s soft.
It must be said that biting is nothing new for him. As a six-month-old, he happily discovered the sensation that is gnawing, the difference being that the mouth then was merely gums, devoid of a set of prickly fangs. The culprit behind this regression was likely the arrival of a new baby into the fold. Perhaps feelings of resentment are harbored by the boy. Whatever it is, we will never know. A cerebral growth spurt will surely cure all such ills.
Or so was thought.
To universal discontent, such juvenile misconduct can obviously endure. The déjà-vu that was Luiz Suárez’s munch on Azzurri’s Chiellini was a scene much familiar. It too will remain a mystery. Unlike a toddler, though, athletes rarely get the proverbial pass. Why the outrage? To expect of a troubled world-class diva, coddled at every turn without the wherewithal to balance a chequebook, to conduct himself with grace under fire is like asking my toddler to do the dishes. Rather than demanding remorse and rehabilitation, the paying public should finally adjust its perspective on the nature of these gladiators and its competitive sport.
Suárez’s own behavioral precedent sets him apart as a chronic biter. In his first stint with a major European club in 2010, the Netherlands’ Ajax, Suárez summarily bit an opponent on the shoulder during an in-game scuffle between the two teams. His reprimand was a ban of seven games and the worst season of his career. In another moment of absurdity, now with Liverpool, Suárez took another sharp bite of an opponent’s arm in 2013, earning him a 10-game ban. Including his 2011 suspension for racial abuse as well as the current FIFA verdict, Suárez has now been involuntarily sidelined for a full season.
Already, psychological evaluations are abound. Intense emotions and lack of impulse-control under stress are to blame, says one sports psychologist. It’s merely an expression of frustration or rage imbued in contact sports, according to his colleague. Yet other professionals would insist that Suárez’s biting incidents are indicative of a classic criminological behavior stemming from a volatile character. A profile of Suárez by ESPN’s Wright Thompson last month was psychoanalytical prophecy.
It would be remiss to not mention that Suárez hardly stands alone in the lore of biting infamy – Mike Tyson likely being the most notorious of the lot due to keeping a souvenir of his victim. Basketball has not been immune from this bug as a Tree has bitten Man.
Still, biting itself is a strange outlet for these would-be psychological defects. No stressed lawyer would bite his meddling opponent after missing a filing deadline. Should that lawyer be of an especially aggressive temperament, he would most certainly opt for a punch. Sinking one’s teeth into someone’s flesh is only akin to a toddler whose emotional ache cannot be explained or comprehended. Eventually, a child learns that biting is wrong – certainly once the language stage is attained. Suárez remained an emotional toddler, incurable.
The question becomes whether Suárez, despite Bitegate, deserves to be ostracized in a way other athletes aren’t. We tolerate assault, infidelity, drink driving – all in the name of results. Issue a press release and get on with the game. Win a title and all is forgotten. Ray Lewis knows the drill.
This treatment, along with lifelong pampering of talent, enables a sizeable sense of entitlement in many a player. The blatant dives within the game are a manifestation of that sense. It’s something beyond the attempt to gain advantage on an opponent, having them carded or sent off. It’s almost as if the players are offended that they are challenged, or even touched. Dwyane Wade is doing America proud.
Whatever their background, the players in their current state are a mere figment of this environment – a product of the world’s demand for football excellence. With the trappings of stardom, can Suárez really be shamed for succumbing to the worst side of his flawed character? As long as football remains a religion, with Suárez and his ilk as demigods, the public is in no position to pass judgment. Not with the continued worship at the altar of FIFA – an organization ready to offer sacrifices for the building of its cathedrals.
So once the objects of our devotion fail, let’s not feign indignation. Let us instead be distracted by another toy.