Why trusting sports stars is a bad idea

Teething trouble: Luis Suarez bites Branislav Ivanovic
25 Apr 2013 @ 2.51 pm
| Opinion, Sport
Teething trouble: Luis Suarez bites Branislav Ivanovic
Teething trouble: Luis Suarez bites Branislav Ivanovic

After a Liverpool player is banned for biting an opponent, Miles Salter wonders what is the problem with some sports stars?

The news that Luis Suarez has been banned for ten matches is an attempt by the FA to show that biting another player isn’t really a good idea. Penalties, free kicks, and dribbling are all permissible elements of the beautiful game. Sinking your incisors into an opponent’s arm, is, however, a bit naughty.

Whilst the ban is welcome news, the mounting evidence that sports stars can’t be trusted when it comes to controlling their passions is alarming. Suarez is only the latest in a long line of sports people who just can’t seem to keep themselves together.

Tennis star John McEnroe lost his temper on numerous occasions in the 1980s, tossing his racket around with gay abandon. The boxer Mike Tyson bit into the ear of opponent Evander Holyfield at a bout in 1997.

More recently, the Paralympic star Oscar Pistorius was charged with the murder of his girlfriend. The appalling story cast a shadow over the huge fuss made over the 2012 London Olympics.

What is it with sports stars? Perhaps aspiring to physical prowess comes at a price – in all the cases cited above, they lost it, resorting to some baser instinct. Ironically, sport should – in part – be about rising above such animal aggression.

Sport is, after all, about intense discipline, being able to defer gratification in order to achieve a physical goal. But for some men, handling the physical energy that inhabits their bodies is very difficult. I wouldn’t want to have Tyson and Suarez over for dinner – they might wreck the place!

jessica-ennisOur sports men (and it’s invariably men who get into these scrapes) sometimes find it hard to maintain their own standards. Even David Beckham, one of our most respected footballers, famously lashed out at Diego Simeone in the 1998 World Cup, and was sent off for his trouble. Many sports stars do set a great example, and are never seen expressing themselves in an unruly way – just look at Roger Federer, Daley Thompson or Jessica Ennis (pictured right). They’ve all been fantastic role models for the rest of us.

Driven people (and sports stars are often driven) come with built in fault lines. They are prone to their problems – look at the alcoholism of Paul Gascoigne or the infamous George Best. Driven to external goals, not all of them reflect on their own imperfections.

Maybe they need some recreation that is more spiritual in nature. Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living, but I wonder if his famous observation is hung in the dressing room of Manchester United? I doubt it.

Perhaps Suarez might like to consider anger management or some time in contemplative reflection. I’d like to think he’ll hang out with Buddhists or Jesuits for the time it takes for his ten-match ban to be complete. But I doubt it. In time, he’ll be back. Let’s hope he can stay cool in the future.