Luis Suarez has earned infamy once again for biting an opposing player in Tuesday’s World Cup match between Uruguay and Italy. It’s the third time Suarez has bit someone on the pitch.
Many are now questioning the 27-year-old’s mental health.
“It could be a childhood coping mechanism, this habitual response of biting when you’re in a stressful situation, that he has carried into adulthood,” says Latchman Narain, founder and director of the Anger Management Centre of Toronto.
Suarez’s latest attack on an opponent came with only about 10 minutes left in the game, with the score tied 0-0, “so most likely there was high tension and high stress,” Dr. Narain says.
Aggression in games often occurs when the clock is running out and pressure is peaking, after all.
“It’s in those really tense situations that when those emotions can come to a boil,” says Katherine Tamminen, an associate professor at the University of Toronto’s faculty of kinesiology and physical education, whose research focuses on stress, coping and emotion in sport.
Former professional soccer player Stan Collymore is advocating for Suarez to receive treatment in addition to whatever punishment FIFA doles out.
“For me, an evaluation should be made of his mental health, and any ban or fine should take that information into consideration,” Collymore writes in a guest column for Bleacher Report.
Others have jumped straight to armchair diagnoses. Suarez has a “pathological problem,” according to the Telegraph’s chief sports writer.
This certainly is not an isolated incident. Suarez received a seven-game suspension for biting an opponent when he was playing for Ajax in 2010. He was suspended for 10 games after biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic during a Premier League game last year.
As of Wednesday, FIFA was still deciding what, if any, disciplinary action to take against Suarez for biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini.
One of the goals of anger management would be getting Suarez to be aware of how his behaviour may impact on his future career, Narain says.
If Suarez can’t yet see how biting other players might hurt his life as a professional player, others are certainly worrying for him.
“I fear for his career,” Gordon Taylor, head of the England-based Professional Footballers’ Association, told the BBC on Tuesday.