Professional athletes are, perhaps by definition, odd creatures. They subject their bodies to gruelling physical demands; their minds bend under the stress of constant competition. It’s no wonder some are prone to bizarre behaviour. NFL defensive tackle John Henderson asks his trainer to slap him hard across the face before every game. Rafael Nadal elaborately grabs the seat of his tennis shorts ahead of his serve. And then there are the toothsome habits of Uruguay’s Luis Suarez.
Mr. Suarez is always hungry for victory. He is also, sometimes, hungry for a bite of his opponents. Near the end of Italy-Uruguay match on Tuesday, the cameras appeared to catch Mr. Suarez chomping his incisors into the shoulder of Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini. That could lead to the suspension of one of the world’s best players. Twitter exploded; one meme depicted him wearing a Hannibal Lecter mask. Another showed him starring in the next Jaws movie. The Bite led companies from Bud Light to Listerine to buy promoted tweets under the #Suarez hashtag. The former pushed images of beer bottles opened with teeth. The latter tweeted: “We recommend a good swish after grabbing a bite of Italian.”
Mr. Suarez, it should be noted, is not the first professional athlete to exhibit a penchant for biting. Mike Tyson briefly lost his boxing licence in 1997 after biting off part of Evander Holyfield’s ear. Alex Burrows of the Vancouver Canucks was accused of biting the Boston Bruins’ Patrice Bergeron in a Stanley Cup final in 2011, though the video was inconclusive. As for Mr. Suarez, this is not the first offence. Or even his second. In 2010 he bit an opponent in the Dutch Eredivisie. He bit another opponent last year, in the Premiership.
The deeper question is, why on earth does he do it? Biting, according to behavioural scientists, is a primal expression of aggression. Some sports psychologists say Mr. Suarez’s chomps are spontaneous reflexes, split seconds where emotion eclipses reason. It is, to this way of thinking, akin to temporary insanity. Others argue that his behaviour is not unlike a toddler’s. Biting can be a perfectly normal part development; parents are encouraged to curb it by instructing their children to “use your words,” limit TV time or give them a time out. FIFA may be about to give him a time out – which would certainly limit his TV time. If not, we can always hope he’ll grow out of it.