It's time for Luis Suarez to go.
The Uruguay superstar appeared to have bitten Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini in the 79th minute of his team's 1-0 victory Tuesday, gnawing into the back of his left shoulder. Then Suarez flopped onto the ground, covering his face. Chiellini lowered his jersey over his left shoulder to show the referee what looked very much like a bite mark. There was no foul or card issued.
It was disturbing and embarrassing. It was not the first offense for this player, but it should be his last for this tournament. Suarez should be banned from the remainder of the World Cup.
Biting cannot be excused or tolerated. It's a level beyond the other cheap shots in sport – like, say, a hockey player hitting an opponent in the groin with his stick or an offensive lineman sticking his fingers through an opponent's face guard. It's sociopathic.
He's done it twice before. Suarez was banned seven matches for biting in 2010 and another 10 for biting last year. And it's not the only type of offense, either. He's been accused of head-butting a referee and using racial slurs. His list of ugly offenses is nearly as long as his list of achievements.
On one level, we can understand the emotion of a situation like this. The match against Italy was very intense. Uruguay needed a win to advance to the knockout round. This was a defining day for everyone on both teams, and for two nations hanging on every moment. As Suarez himself told Sports Illustrated before this tournament, "On the field, sometimes passion overwhelms you and you do things you regret afterwards."
[Photos: Did Luis Suarez bite Giorgio Chiellini?]
And for Suarez, there is compassion for his extremely difficult background. Those who grow up with little or nothing often play as if they could lose everything. Sometimes the best athletes play with fear, almost phobia, that it all could be taken away. That motivates and prods and often leads to true greatness.
This behavior, however, doesn't deserve any rationalizations. There are many formerly impoverished players on World Cup teams. There are many players from broken homes. There are many players who live in fear of failure.
Those players do not bite other players.
The heat-of-the-moment reasoning doesn't wash, either. Suarez may have lost his cool when he appeared to bite Chiellini, but he immediately had the presence of mind to flop onto the ground. Yes, emotions take over in times like that, but they don't immediately give way to cunning. It is somewhat reminiscent of Suarez's racial epithet toward Manchester United's Patrice Evra in 2011. He was given eight matches, then he refused to shake Evra's hand during their next meeting. After his bite of Branislav Ivanovic of Chelsea, the Football Association accused Suarez of not understanding the gravity of his crime. There is a clear pattern here of avoiding true accountability.
So accountability must land with a higher authority.
"Suarez is a sneak and he gets away with it because FIFA wants their stars to play in the World Cup," Chiellini said after the match. "I'd love to see if they have the courage to use video evidence against him."
FIFA announced that it will investigate the incident and it has reason and precedent to hand out the harshest of penalties. It banned Mauro Tassotti of Italy for eight matches in 1994 for elbowing, and elbowing is nothing compared to biting. The English FA gave Suarez 10 matches for a prior biting incident, explaining that "all players in the higher level of the game are seen as role models, have the duty to act professionally and responsibly, and set the highest example of good conduct to the rest of the game – especially to young players."
The same rationale applies here, and then some. The entire world will see this incident, and there has to be commensurate punishment. Suarez needs help, and he won't get it if all is forgiven because he's such a good player.
And he is a magnificent player. One of the best on the planet. The stage of the World Cup is meant for the kind of talent he possesses.
But the stage deserves better than someone who acts like this.