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Keith Strudler: Another Biting Commentary

Having my youngest of two boys three years into daycare and headed to pre-K, I’m well familiar with the kinds of behaviors that earn you a note sent home to parents. Hitting’s one. Certain adult language is another. But the gold standard of all pink slips is, of course, biting. Bite another kid, and your parents get something approaching a police report, and the other parents get a note branding you a common criminal. Hitting and name calling are bad, but biting is flat out felonious.

Such is the same in the sports world, where criminal activity is often sentenced with little more than a flag or few minutes in time out, also known as the penalty box. Such behavior includes hitting, throwing hard objects at someone, cursing, and a bunch of other things that would get you thrown out of high school. But biting stands above all as the most abusive, reviled, memorable offense. It’s so bad that even its friendlier cousin, spitting, is treated like a federal offense. We were reminded of this on Tuesday at the World Cup, as Uruguay’s soccer forward Luis Suarez bit Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini on his shoulder as they were maneuvering for position. The refs never saw it, and despite some fairly clear implants on Chiellini’s skin, the chomp went without penalty. Uruguay scored a minute later, won the game and advanced to the elimination round while Italy went home. Whether that bite contributed to the final score is up for epicurean debate, but this match will always leave a bitter taste in Italy’s mouth.

Suarez will receive his just deserves, if not desserts, as FIFA is reviewing game footage and will levy a likely severe suspension, which could go from 24 games to two years to life, all adding to the 17 total games Suarez has been suspended for two past biting incidents. In the grand landscape of soccer carnivores, Suarez isn’t a first time offender; he’s a binge eater. None of this will appease the Italians who go home hungry for the second consecutive cup since winning in 2006. But in annals of justice, Suarez will be punished more severely than his bite marks would suggest, especially considering he didn’t seem to break the skin.

Biting as an act in sports clearly crosses acceptable lines of deviance, going beyond borderline violence to quasi-criminal violence, perhaps even to criminal violence from a sociological perspective. It’s regarded more heinously than other violent acts in sports, like throwing a baseball at someone, which honestly has far greater health risk than a nibble. In fact, some of the most reviled acts in sports history were bites, leading of course with Mike Tyson’s gauge of EvanderHolyfield’s ear. There are many others, most seemingly in hockey, although probably a whole lot went unreported in football. And, of course, Tree Rollins bit Danny Ainge’s finger, although anyone outside of Boston agrees he probably deserved it.

So why is it that biting is worse than, say, hitting someone with a hockey stick? One can kill you, and the other can give you an infection. It’s far more emotional and normative than logical. Hitting someone is an extension of human angst and competition. Biting is something animals do. Sharks, lions, bad dogs. It’s something you watch on NatGeo channel before they yell, “THAT’S WHY THEY CALL THEM ANIMALS!” Biting is primitive, unsophisticated, and base, even if somehow blindsiding a quarterback isn’t. It’s all in the spin. Now, why does someone put biting in their sports arsenal, as Luis Suarez certainly has? It’s hard to say, although it does seem to change the game more than a nice cross to midfield. And if you want to intimidate an opponent, leave some doubt that you might bite them. It makes you seem crazy, like right out of a prison movie. That will get you some free space on the next corner kick.

So, what’s the right penalty for Luis Suarez? That’s hard to say, since the damage is already done, if the bite did in fact impact the outcome of this pivotal match, where only the winner would advance. And knowing FIFA’s leadership that includes corruption as a measurable goal, the verdict will questioned regardless. At the very least, he should be removed from this World Cup, which will undoubtedly happen. And, of course, a pink slip should go home to his parents.

Keith Strudler is the director of the Marist College Center for Sports Communication and an associate professor of communication. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler

 

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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