The events of Sunday afternoon that saw Luis Suarez bite Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic were ugly. Not ugly sat next to the sorts of horrors that can take place around the globe on a daily basis, perhaps, but then sport has always been meant to provide escape from an at times cruel world. Even when the sport itself contains violence—when the sport, in a few cases, is violence—that violence must be measured and codified, judged to adhere to rules of which acceptance is the fee for participation.
So it is in football, where a badly timed or overly aggressive tackle can end a player's season or even career yet seem to pale in comparison to an act such as Suarez'. An ugly tackle, though perhaps more violent, is an accepted action taken a step of seven beyond the realm of what is acceptable. Biting an opponent, on the other hand, is to resort to an act of violence three steps to the left, a quick pirouette, and a leap through a wormhole away from it regardless of the act's violence when viewed outside the game's context.
All would seem to agree, then—including Suarez and the club, with statements coming from both shortly after the match—that the player's act was an ugly one. All would likely accept—including the player and his club—that punishment of some kind will be handed down by the Football Association in the coming days, and few will be more surprised than Liverpool fans if Suarez plays another game for the club this season at the very least. Yet the reaction in some quarters to the incident has been almost as unpleasant as the act itself.
Unsurprisingly given the victim, those most interested in leading the charge in proclaiming Suarez not only a blight on the game but a disgraceful human being are Chelsea fans. It's a message that would be easier to take if it wasn't coming from fans who still, on the whole, support John Terry, a man who allegedly slept with Wayne Bridge's ex, the fallout from which did more damage to a teammate than Suarez could have to Ivanovic even had he managed to break the skin. Fans who, on the whole, continued to back left back Ashley Cole as England's best after he shot a 21-year-old intern on club property.
And if those events are excused from consideration for taking place as they did away from the pitch and so speaking only to the involved individuals' value and standing as human beings separate from their value as football players, one can still point to the fact that these are fans who, on the whole, would take manager Jose Mourinho back in a heartbeat. The Jose Mourinho whose involvement in an ugly eye gouging incident during a match between Madrid and Barcelona could have left Tito Vilanova blind in one eye.
None of which, as ugly as such blinkered tribalism might be, goes any ways towards excusing Suarez for the ugly incident on Sunday afternoon. And when it comes to the incident in question and its likely fallout, most on the other side of that tribal line appear fatalistic at best, with Liverpool fans largely expecting punishment will rightly be handed down against Suarez—and expecting that punishment to at least match that which he was given over allegations of racial abuse involving Patrice Evra the English FA admitted could not be proven to have happened as alleged.
In this case, though, there was clearly an action taken that went beyond the rules of the game, albeit an act of physical violence rather than the previously alleged verbal violence. This time there is no room for doubt. While in the pantheon of player violence that goes beyond the bounds of the game's rules Suarez' biting of Ivanovic might pale in comparison to the likes of Eric Cantona's assault against a fan—an assault that wasn't enough for United manager Alex Ferguson to sever ties with the French attacker—there remains nothing that can excuse it.
Worst of all for Suarez and those few who would still seek to rally unquestioningly to his cause is the fact that he has been punished for biting an opponent before—in his last ever game for Ajax. Then, it led to a suspension and signalled to Liverpool that the Uruguayan striker could be had for a bargain in the January window. Now, many expect it will signal the same thing to some club in Spain or Italy.
It is in the repeat nature of his offence that insult is added to attempted injury, leaving many Liverpool fans feeling a kind of betrayal. They have, for the most part, stuck with Suarez through thick and thin. Even as he has shown an at least outwards loyalty to a club below his standing as one of the world's most talented footballers, the club's fans have stuck with him despite a series of incidents that at best could be called highly distracting and that have—for right or wrong—led to his vilification in the rest of England.
In recent weeks, on the back of a season where he has made legitimate challenge on England's golden boot and player of the season honours, he has often talked of his maturation as a player—and of his need to mature further. Yet now, instead of displaying such newfound maturation, he has again bitten an opponent in a moment of impassioned madness. And now, many expect the club will have little choice but to part ways with him over the summer—and likely at a cut-rate price accounting for the headaches he can bring to a side just as much as for the goals he can score.
Everybody knows where this story goes next, and even if there is to be a last second twist it's difficult to imagine Suarez continuing to receive the kind of unwavering support he has been given until now amongst Liverpool fans. Not after taking a day meant to be about Anne Williams, meant to be about Rafa Benitez and Daniel Sturridge coming up against their former clubs, and turning it into the kind of headache many had convinced themselves Suarez had finally matured beyond.
Yet despite the legitimate nature of his offence, there remains little room for the kind of faux outrage and moral grandstanding so popular amongst pundits and opposition fans. Not when there are so, so many involved in the game who have done so, so much worse—including people currently or formerly employed by Chelsea who their fans would, on the whole, still rally around without a second's thought. One imagines, of course, that this reality won't stop them. It certainly hasn't so far.