Admittedly, I am your textbook bandwagon Soccer Fan. I don’t pay much attention to the MLS or the British Premier League. Even when it is featured in the Olympics, you will probably find me watching Curling instead. But when the World Cup kicked off this summer, I was as avid a fan as any. And I wasn’t just on the U.S. bandwagon – I was on the Cinderella bandwagon. The American triumph in Ghana was great, but in my opinion it was secondary to John Brooks becoming the first American substitute to score a goal in World Cup history. I couldn’t get enough of James Rodriguez, I was as excited about Costa Rica’s success as I was about the super-human skills displayed by Tim Howard, and my heart broke into a million pieces when Chile nearly beat Brazil, only to fall in one of the most dramatic shoot-outs of the entire tournament.
There is no denying the fact that the 2014 World Cup provided an immense amount of entertainment and excitement for viewers world wide. In spite of this, however, there were several issues that arose which were, in my view, so outrageous that FIFA will have one less viewer in 2018. In this post, I will focus on perhaps the behavior of perhaps the most infamous player in the sport: Luis Suarez.
Crimes on the Pitch: Why Suarez should be Convicted of Assault
I hardly need to recount what occurred, but just in case, here’s the deal. During a match with Italy, Suarez bit Giorgio Chiellini on the shoulder. No action was taken by the officials. Yellow cards are given for dangerous plays, many of which are probably unintentional. In this case, however, no card was given at all for something that was clearly intentional. Now, just to cover my bases, let me play my own devil’s advocate. How could I possibly know whether it was intentional. After all, Suarez claimed that a collision occurred between him and Chiellini and that his mouth fell on his shoulder, resulting in “a strong pain in my teeth.” Given this explanation, it is entirely reasonable to think it could have been an accident.
Here’s the problem: Suarez is full of shit. Given the visible bite marks on Chiellini’s shoulder coupled with the fact that this was the THIRD time that Suarez sank his teeth into an opponent during a soccer match and has faced (inadequate) disciplinary action for his behavior. If FIFA punishes someone, then you KNOW it’s a big deal. Now all of this still doesn’t prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that it was on purpose, but it certainly proves beyond a reasonable doubt that his action was intentional, and that is all I care about. After you have been found culpable of biting someone three times, you lose all benefit of the doubt.
What Luis Suarez did was clearly wrong, and I do not think many people will disagree with that. But the thesis I advance here may be a bit more controversial: his behavior wasn’t just wrong, it was criminal. If I am at a restaurant or a concert and someone bites me, I could (and would) press criminal assault charges. Short of a technicality, and provided I had evidence and witnesses to verify the crime took place, that person would surely be convicted – and if it was their third strike, they would likely face jail time. Given these factors, I find it puzzling that a behavior that would be a crime in any other context is not treated as such if it occurs within the context of a sporting event.
Admittedly, there are issues with my argument. For starters, context does matter. As a scholar of rhetoric and communication, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that. For instance, if any behavior that is a crime outside of sports is considered a crime within sports, then we wouldn’t have Boxing, MMA, Wrestling, Rugby, or tackle Football. Given these facts, I am not going to even try to justify abolishing all contact sports, because that would be ridiculous. Instead, I offer a more specific proposal:
If an action is committed during the course of a sporting event that would be considered a crime AND that action cannot be reasonably deemed as a routine part of the sport being played, then that action should be considered a crime and the authorities that have jurisdiction in the area in which the incident occurred have an obligation to press criminal charges against the alleged culprit.
Given this criteria, I feel safe saying that biting is not something that a soccer player should reasonably expect to happen on the pitch. Therefore, the punishment handed down by FIFA which has been criticized as being to harsh is far from it. Originally, I was going to entitle this post “Why Luis Suarez Should be Euthanized.” After all, with strict liability laws in most states, if a dog bites a person ONCE, they are put to death. No second chances. On top of that, many dog bites are not unprovoked. But that is besides the point. We shouldn’t hold human beings to lesser standards of conduct than dogs. By allowing Luis Suarez to live, we are doing just that.
But even I think my own gut reaction to the whole controversy is a bit extreme. Instead of euthanizing humans that bite, it probably should not be legal to euthanize a dog after the first time they bite somebody.
Still, FIFA’s punishment is far too lenient. At the very least, Suarez should be convicted of assault and be handed a lifetime ban from all soccer activities. Three strikes and you are OUT. There are no fourth strikes in baseball, so there shouldn’t be any for biting either.
Clearly I am upset with Suarez for bringing shame to the game and with FIFA for not taking this much more seriously. But I am equally upset with the victim – Chiellini himself. He accepted Suarez’s (non) apology, and even went so far as to claim that the punishment Suarez received was too harsh. Chiellini, are you fucking kidding me? Do you not have any self-respect? He bit you! He transferred his germ-carrying saliva into your skin! My message to Chiellini: have some respect for yourself, and at least pretend like you care about restoring integrity to the game you have dedicated your life to playing.
That’s all for now. I hope this stirs up some controversy – the comments I have received up to this point have been far too kind.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post in which I explain why I have absolutely no sympathy for Neymar.