Life Mental Health

Friday 22 August 2014

Why we are all so appalled when one man bites another

Luis Suarez's primitive act of savagery left us reeling. Graham Clifford reports on why we're so shocked

Graham Clifford

Published 26/06/2014 | 02:30

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Leaving a bad taste: Luis Suarez is accused of biting an Italian opponent . PA
Leaving a bad taste: Luis Suarez is accused of biting an Italian opponent. PA
Run-in: Giorgio Chiellini shows the marks after the incident with Suarez
Run-in: Giorgio Chiellini shows the marks after the incident with Suarez

After the shock came the inevitable question. Why? Why would a man who has it all be prone to such moments of sheer animalistic madness?

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And why do his actions cause such public revulsion?

Luis Suarez, the twinkle-toed Uruguayan genius, loving husband, father of two and one of the best players in the world is also now ... .a serial biter of opponents.

It's difficult to know if Suarez's primitive acts of savagery are behavioral or something more deep-rooted – either way they've caused an international storm.

Are these actions pre-meditated, does he really believe television cameras will not pick up the assault?

It should be pointed out, of course, that Suarez maintains he did nothing wrong.

Dr John Hillery, Consultant Psychiatrist and Director of Communication and Education at the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland, told the Irish Independent that the act of biting is unusual amongst the general adult population.

"It'd be very uncommon among patients we would see. Perhaps in some situations where you're dealing with someone with severe intellectual disabilities or autistic traits it might be an issue – but overall it's very rare."

The reaction on social media mirrored a wave of abhorrence which spread like a cloak over the world's footballing community.

Indeed those who hadn't watched a second of the action from Brazil and hadn't heard of Suarez before couldn't help but watch the incident.

You can just imagine the millions of flinched faces looking at their TV and computer screens once Suarez jaws clamped down on Giorgio Chiellini's shoulder.

The barbaric nature of the movement is extremely unsettling.

While appalling and potentially life-threatening challenges, such as that of West German goalkeeper Harald Schumacher on French player Patrick Battiston in the 1982 World Cup semi-final in Seville, are sometimes described as being part and parcel of the physical game of football – actions such as biting are seen as falling into a different category altogether.

"We see it as uncivilized and animalistic," says Dr Hillery. "Also it's a sneaky act and that repulses us too. In our heads, we think of bites getting infected, the transmission of disease and so on.

"Though the consequences are oft times less we are more horrified by a bite than a punch" says Dr Hillery.

Somehow it's even considered more of serious offence by many than eye-gouging in rugby union.

What's mind-boggling about Suarez's actions in Natal, and the other two occasions on which he's bitten another player, is that they don't tie in with his behavior off the field of play.

He is not the thug the British tabloid media often paint him to be.

"To my knowledge, Suarez has no history of violence outside of soccer," says Dr Hillery.

"He has a very settled family life having come from a broken family as a boy.

"He was a leader amongst his siblings and all-in-all he's quite a private person off the pitch. Perhaps at Liverpool this season the management and support he received there stopped him from acting up.

"But when with the Uruguayan side and with the World Cup being held in South America perhaps he loses that focus to control himself" says Dr Hillery.

Whatever the reasons, be they behavioral or psychological, Luis Suarez needs to finally deal with these demons or they could destroy more than just his career – they could destroy his life.

Biting, as a form of attack, is still considered to be the vilest of methods.

Let's just hope that no child playing the game of soccer across the globe thinks it is okay to emulate the actions of Suarez.

Irish Independent

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