At this point, it’s clear: Luis Suárez’s biting isn’t happenstance. It’s a pattern, one that at least one professional identified a year ago.
That’s what happened after Luis Suárez bit Chelsea’ Branislav Ivanovic in April 2013. Quoted in a BBC story investigating the frequency of adult biting, University of Salford sports psychologist Dr. Thomas Fawcett spoke about the spontaneous nature of the phenomenon, saying anger management was unlikely to help Suárez with what was probably a reflex response.
From last April’s story:
“It’s in the man,” he says. “I would think that in five years’ time if there was a certain nerve hit or chord rung with Suarez in a different situation he would react in the same way.”
Five years? One year? At this point, it’s clear Suárez is pretty far down this troubling road, but it’s important to note the nature of the problem Fawcett’s describing. Also brought out in rugby and other contact sports, biting represents a psychological issue that sports’ normal punishments are unlikely to solve. It may not be a matter of providing a disincentive as much as recognizing the deeper, more intricate problem.
Unfortunately for Suárez, the heightened emotions of high-level sports bring this problem out. From Fawcett, who studied the Ivanovic incident:
“It’s not pre-planned – it’s a very spontaneous, emotional response. He’s doing it on impulse,” says the psychologist, who has studied the footage extensively.
Most often biting is a sign of frustration. A negative response when tensions reach boiling point, he says.
Dealing with Suárez may not be about how long to suspended him. It may be about assessing if he can be helped. We may be entering a conversation that we rarely have in professional sport, one which tried to assess a man is capable of meeting the basic behavioral requirements to play at the highest levels.
If his biting reflex is too ingrained to be held off, how can you put Suárez in high stress situations and assume it won’t come out?