FIFA have banned Luis Suarez from all footballing activities for four months for his bite on Italy’s Georgio Chiellini. The ban means Suarez will not play for Uruguay until next year and will not be allowed to train with his professional football club or play in any matches with them until November 2014. A four month ban is a hefty chunk out of Suarez’ season and people are now questioning whether biting rises to the level of deserving such a harsh ban.
The argument that biting “ain’t so bad” goes like this: which is worse, a leg breaking tackle or a little bite? Considering the fact that Roy Keane was given just five weeks for admitting that he intended to end Alfe Haaland’s career with a knee high tackle or that Eric Cantona “oohed and ahhed” the crowd of his living room for 9 months after attacking a fan in the stands with a kung-fu kick there is merit to the argument. But for me, this isn’t an ‘either/or’ situation: Suarez deserves four months for his third career bite and leg breaking tackles deserve harsher punishment.
Players who break another player’s leg through reckless or violent conduct should be punished for more than three games. It is incongruous that spitting on or near an opponent is a 9 match ban but swinging your leg wildly in a scything motion and cutting down a young man’s career is only 3.
But what makes it easy for FIFA and the English FA to have such weird disciplinary standards is that hard tackling is part of the game and only recently even frowned upon. When Martin Taylor broke Eduardo’s leg with a studs up, over the top lunge, Steve Bruce publicly proclaimed that “some would say it’s not even a yellow card.” That was just six and a half years ago.
It’s easy to see why the powers that be are reluctant to change tackling culture in football. For as much as certain Americans like to make fun of football as a “wussy” sport, hard tackling has a long history in the game and we all still marvel when a player flies in on the edge of control and wins the ball with a good hard tackle. Roy Keane, who intentionally broke a man’s leg, is still revered at Manchester United. I have a portrait of Patrick Vieira, who has more red cards than any other player in Premier League history (one for spitting, I might add), hanging on my wall.
But the rules for tackling need to be dealt with on their own terms. We don’t want to eliminate tackles but we want to make sure that players like Ryan Shawcross are rightly punished for scything down players like Aaron Ramsey and nearly ruining the young man’s career. And we do that within the rules of the game.
The “rules of the game” are important because all contact sports are codified violence. You can punch a man’s nose into his face until he’s unconscious in boxing. You can elbow a man in the face repeatedly until he submits in MMA. You can hit a man with your shoulder so hard that you give him a concussion in American football. And apparently, you can break a player’s leg with a reckless tackle and get away with a three match ban in football. If you want to change any of those rules, you can petition to have those rules changed. But no matter how brutal the sport, no matter how bloody the participants at the end, no sport allows players to bite.
A human biting a human indicates a loss of control in a very primal way. Primal. As in something our primate ancestors did to each other. I’m not being flip and I’m not calling Suarez an animal, he’s not. But when he was having a terrible match and with his country facing elimination, he bit a defender. The second time in as many years, under the same circumstances, and with the same result. Suarez isn’t an animal but he acted like one.
Biting indicates primal, animal behavior that humans have drilled out of them by age three. Animals who bite humans are considered wild or feral. Biting humans is behavior that we breed out of animals in order to domesticate them.
That’s why the rules of football and the rules of each sport are one thing but the rules of society trump the rules of sport. As violent as some sports can be (boxing and MMA come to mind) no sport allows biting.
And that’s why Suarez got 4 months. This isn’t a witch hunt. This isn’t about morality. This isn’t about Chiellini’s masculinity. Luis Suarez bit a man (thrice) and he liked it.
And as psychologists pointed out last year, he will bite again.