The Laugh Test

This blog is all about accepting responsibility for our poor choices. And, as the blog’s subtitle indicates, part of accepting responsibility is this: no flimsy excuses. But calling an excuse “flimsy” gives some excuses way too much credit. They don’t pass the laugh test. “He couldn’t actually have said this, right?” Well, yes. Yes, he did.

This is where Luis Suarez makes his entrance. A striker on Uruguay’s World Cup team, last week the football star was locked in a fierce battle for position with defender Giorgio Chiellini and proceeded to bite the Italian on his shoulder. Both players fell to the ground, with Chiellini pulling his collar down to reveal obvious teeth marks. None of the four officials on the field saw the incident, but it did not escape the camera’s eye. The bite was referred to FIFA, football’s ruling body, for possible disciplinary action.

And this is where Suarez failed the laugh test. His explanation to FIFA:

In no way it happened 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.

The 7-member FIFA panel didn’t buy it. Not for a second. “The commission took into account that the offence was made directly against a player while the ball was not in dispute and that the offence was deliberate and intentional and without provocation. He bit the player with the intention of wounding him or at least of destabilising him.” Suarez was kicked out of the World Cup and banned from any FIFA-sanctioned event for four months.

A factor FIFA took into consideration–and one more thing that makes his defense laughable–is this: Suarez is a recidivist biter. He bit opponents on at least two prior occasions, enduring a seven-game suspension by a Dutch league in 2010 and a ten-game suspension by the Premier League–where he is a member of the Liverpool Reds–just last year.

In 1997 Mike Tyson bit off a chunk of Evander Holyfield’s ear during a heavyweight title fight and spit it out on the ring floor. (Curiously, the referee did not stop the fight until the next round when Tyson bit Holyfield’s other ear.) At least Tyson had the decency to admit the bites, claiming he bit Holyfield in retaliation for head-butts from which the referee was not protecting him. Whined Tyson: “Nobody ever has any sympathy or pity for me. In retaliation, I’ll fight back because nobody is fighting for me.”

As an unsolicited service to Suarez, let me suggest the following if–when he is called on to answer for any future bites–he wants to upgrade his response from laughable to flimsy:

  • “I was locked in the grip of an irresistible impulse.”
  • “I have lingering oral-fixation issues from being bottle-fed as an infant.”
  • “Is biting against the rules? I thought it was one of those gray areas subject to interpretation.”
  • “I have a weakness for Italian food.”
  • “It’s a sickness, really. “
  • “Have I told you lately about my charity work with underprivileged kids?”

But if Suarez really wants to upgrade, if he wants to genuinely accept responsibility for outrageous behavior by making a sincere apology, he can try this on for size:

 Mr. Chiellini , I’m sorry I bit your shoulder. Football is a difficult, rough-and-tumble sport in which opponents compete forcefully and intensely. But it has rules. And, more than that, it has a code of honor among competitors. I violated all of those and brought dishonor on the match, my team, my country, the World Cup, the entire sport. There is no excuse for my behavior.

And since I mentioned my team and my country, let me apologize to them too. Playing on the Uruguayan national team is an honor that is dreamed of by many but afforded to few. Because of that, I owed a duty to my teammates, my coaches and my country to play aggressively to the best of my ability–but within the rules. I violated the trust you all placed in me, and as a result I won’t be available to do the job you gave me the privilege to perform. I’m sorry. I’m sorry I let all of you down.

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