I Still Love Luis Suarez

And yes, I know that makes me unpopular on the Internet

Here are some obvious thoughts, in no particular order:

Biting people is bad. Violence is bad. Soccer players shouldn’t have to worry about being eaten while on the job. I know all these things. Please keep them in mind as you read on.

Because it looks as though Luis Suarez has bitten a soccer player. Again. (There weren’t enough words in that last sentence for me to link to each of his previous biting incidents. Here’s the other.) Let me say that I’m not against biting other people when it’s consensual or defensive, but this was neither.

Does his habit of biting opponents make Luis Suarez a sociopath? It is certainly antisocial. How could he think nobody would see him bite/dive/stomp? It’s one of the first things you might think when a professional soccer player does something obvious and illegal on the field. Everyone is watching all the time. True. Then again, Everyone is watching—all the time. It might drive you a little insane, too.

This is not an attempt to absolve or explain Luis Suarez. People are strange and they make strange choices. I enjoy eccentric characters, and I really like soccer, and so I’m drawn to people like Luis Suarez. Soon after the Uruguay-Italy game ended today, I tweeted this essay I wrote last year about why I love Suarez.

Excuse me while I quote myself: “His play is full of wit and audacity, his character as complicated and contradictory as anyone imagined for stage or page. That he is capable of beautiful skill, base ignorance, and lowly deceit within the bounds of a soccer field and one 90-minute match makes me treasure him as I do fictional scoundrels such as Tom Ripley and Alexander Portnoy and Harry Flashman.”

There is the narrative of a soccer game in which someone bites someone else and nothing makes sense. And there are larger narratives that span a career, or a fan’s intense and distant involvement with someone they’ll only ever see on TV. Biting still doesn’t make a lot of sense here either, but then again, this player’s career, and this fan’s involvement, is far from over.