From Chile to China, soccer fans like to think their teams reflect their national characters.
That’s a delusion, of course. These are jocks, not exchange students. But if international fútbol really is the continuation of war by other means, you at least want to believe your soccer soldiers share your values.
Which is why Uruguay – a nation whose progressive values are so often applauded these days – should follow this advice: Lose Luis.
Start petition drives, call your congressmen, boycott Tannat wine, get your soccer officials high on all that weed your country just legalized, whatever it takes. But dump Luis Suárez. We don’t care if el pistolero (the gunslinger) is a brilliant striker. To the rest of us he's a loathsome Bat Boy.
Boot him from your team and deport him to Transylvania. Because he’s making a mockery of everything you say you stand for.
Suárez intentionally bit an Italian defender during a World Cup game this week. It was the third time he’s munched on a rival in a match. The guy shouldn’t be on a soccer pitch; he belongs in a “Twilight” movie.
FIFA, international soccer’s governing body, did the right thing on Thursday by suspending Suárez for nine matches and fining him $112,000. FIFA rarely does the right thing, so you know Suárez’s chomp was egregious.
These aren't your famous Medialunas Calentitas pastries he's chewing on, my dear Uruguayans. It's human flesh.
But cannibalism is the least of the shame Suárez brings on Uruguay.
Suárez is ranked one of the world’s dirtiest players. YouTube practically has a special library of videos that capture him punching, kicking and stomping on opposing players like a criminal cop in an interrogation room.
Nor is Suárez above cheating. At the 2010 World Cup he deliberately used his hand to stop a ball that was headed into Uruguay’s net. The goal would have given the opposing team a victory. Instead, regulation time finished in a draw and Uruguay won the shootout.
Worse, Suárez has a history of racist behavior. In 2011 the English Football Association suspended him for hurling racial epithets at a black player during a game. When he finished his suspension, Suárez refused to shake that player’s hand the next time their teams met.
“I don’t speak to blacks,” Suárez reportedly told the player.
Uruguay has black players on its national roster. Here in the United States, the National Basketball Association just handed Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling a lifetime ban for his racist antics. So why can’t Uruguay – a country that often holds itself up as more liberal and moral than los yanquis – mete out the same banishment to a lout like Suárez?
It’s flirting with hypocrisy if it doesn’t.
NO PLACE FOR KARDASHIANS
Tiny Uruguay is often called the Switzerland of South America. It was one of the continent’s first nations to let women vote. Its poverty level is low and its foreign investment is high. It recently legalized gay marriage and abortion, and last year it became the world’s first country to legalize the production and sale of marijuana – widely hailed as a model drug policy reform.
Last year I interviewed a number of Uruguayans here in South Florida to get a better sense of what gives their undersized motherland its outsized reputation:
“We don’t want to be rich and famous, but we do want to be socially stable and responsible. The Kardashians would bomb in Uruguay.”
“Our size has helped make our government more honest and transparent. It’s helped us implement things that in other nations have been more difficult.”
“We’re the home of modern art in the Americas. People look to Uruguay as a good place to experiment.”
President José Mujica – a former leftist guerrilla who fought against the country’s military dictatorship in the 1970s and '80s – is a symbol of Uruguay’s decency. He eschews the presidential palace in Montevideo and lives an austere life in his farmhouse. Even the Daily Mail, one of Britain’s most conservative newspapers, has praised him.
That makes it all the more distressing that Mujica, like so many Uruguayans, is defending Suárez. “I didn’t see him bite anyone,” he insisted. Officials at the Uruguayan Football Association, with shamelessly straight faces, claim the photos of Suárez dining on Italian shoulder were doctored. Uruguayan journalists and fans call Suárez’s latest Hannibal Lecter uproar a media conspiracy.
Soccer makes people’s hearts overpower their heads. I get that. It’s fun. I shouted at the TV like a maniac last Sunday when the U.S. almost beat Portugal.
But if a racist thug like Suárez were the star striker for the U.S., I wouldn’t even turn on ESPN. I don’t expect players to showcase my country’s values. I just ask that they don’t trash them.
The way Luis Suárez trashes Uruguay’s.
Tim Padgett is WLRN's Americas editor. You can read more of his coverage here.