SAO PAULO – Since biting an opponent for the third time in a major soccer game, in this case an Italian in the middle of the World Cup, Luis Suarez has been called crazy, labeled a madman and a cannibal and depicted as a shark – among other things. FIFA hit him with a nine-game and four-month suspension.
He's also been defended by a desperate country as a "scapegoat," the victim of a vast international conspiracy (the unlikely partnership of rival South American nations and the European media), and a heroic symbol against longstanding efforts to keep Uruguay down.
The question is, does anyone, on either side, care about Luis Suarez?
Suarez provided his depiction of the event to FIFA during its investigation and the Associated Press uncovered it Saturday. The statement will do nothing but increase the uproar on all sides – and therein lies the chief issue.
For all the jokes and condemnation and defense and victimization surrounding Suarez, it's fairly clear he needs some kind of psychological help at this point. Instead he's being used as both punch line and pawn.
Here's how Suarez recalls the incident that left his teeth marks in the shoulder of Giorgio Chiellini, which got Suarez booted from the World Cup just before Uruguay's do-or-die, round-of-16 game against Colombia on Saturday:
"In no way [did] it happen how you have described, as a bite or intent to bite. After the impact … I lost my balance, making my body unstable and falling on top of my opponent. At that moment I hit my face against the player leaving a small bruise on my cheek and a strong pain in my teeth."
This is, of course, folly, and not even worth prying apart. FIFA didn't buy it for a second and swiftly handed down a major penalty even when the stakes are so high here.
What Suarez needs now is some assistance. This wasn't an accident. And it wasn't a random act. Biting in soccer is exceedingly rare. Perhaps it is possible to occur by coincidence once, but not three times. Especially after Suarez keeps getting sanctioned and held up for massive international scorn; his awareness would prevent reoccurrence.
[Related: Suarez bite more likely than a shark bite?]
A trained mental health professional can properly diagnose him, but it doesn't take an advance degree to see the possibility of someone who either has significant psychological problems or suffers from extreme anger management issues.
There is certainly a possibility that concussion-related health issues – common in soccer but just now starting to be diagnosed – played a role.
If nothing else, he needs to be checked out.
"He should go through a treatment," FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke told reporters this week. "I don't know if one exists but he should do something for himself because it is definitely wrong."
First off, it is inexcusable that FIFA doesn't "know if" treatment exists. Of course it exists. FIFA should have such treatment readily available for players. With the rate of concussions in the sport, this is a problem (whether it's the cause of Suarez's behavior or not) that will only grow with mental health awareness.
FIFA should immediately offer assistance to Suarez, free of charge. Every player should be offered the same deal – not told to do it for himself – because this is an organization with vast financial resources built across generations off the backs of these athletes. Just casting him off to be humiliated globally is reprehensible.
Second, it's long past time for the Uruguayans to stop shifting the blame to everyone else on this and ignoring a player who appears to be crying out for help. You can score a lot of political points back in Montevideo pointing the finger at a vast international conspiracy, led by the European media and fearful Brazilians and Argentines, but that's just cheap hype.
Naturally, politicians can't resist cheap hype. Uruguay is a small nation, just 3.5 million residents, stuck between huge countries in Brazil and Argentina, rivals in not just soccer but business, natural resources, culture and politics. They understandably have an inferiority complex.
Which is why Uruguayan president José Mujica went all in on a national radio broadcast decrying that "the disciplinary measures against Suarez were a monstrous aggression, not just against a man, but also against a country."
None of which acknowledges the truth of the issue or aids Suarez.
And there was Uruguay's coach Oscar Tabárez saying FIFA caved to nebulous evil factions such as "the media" and "organizers" – pretty much the target of all crazed conspiracy theorists.
"[The] decision, obviously, was focused on the opinions of the media: a media who immediately drew their conclusions and treated it like it was the only relevant theme in the post-match press conference," Tabárez said. "I don't know what their nationality was but they all spoke English.
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"They concentrated on Luis' history, on things that happened in the past," he continued, like that wasn't relevant. "Things for which he was sanctioned, punishments he served. We all know where the power lies – in the hands of the organizers but I will not discuss that."
He discussed enough, which is a good way to shift the focus away from the fact Uruguay hadn't done enough in the past.
Had more (or any) people stepped up to help Suarez after previous incidents, perhaps he'd have learned how to control his rage and he'd be available to display his brilliance against Colombia. Or perhaps the pressure of the game is too much, and he could find a way to live a calm and comfortable life, even if it was away from the sport.
None of that has happened yet. It's always been what can be squeezed out of a talented player.
Suarez's actions are his own; he is his own man and must be accountable for his behavior. He deserves every day of that suspension. There is no excuse.
In the end, though, he has become nothing but a prop – mocked and abused internationally; excused and used for both personal cover and political gain domestically.
You can only wonder: Is there anyone looking out for him?
- Sports & Recreation
- Luis Suarez
- World Cup 2014