Insert Luis Suárez bite pun here

Behind the inevitable jokes, the soccer star’s ban was part of an even grander narrative cycle: the World Cup story had its baddie

Suspended: Luis Suárez. Photograph: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

Suspended: Luis Suárez. Photograph: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

Sat, Jun 28, 2014, 01:00

There had been descriptions of Luis Suárez after his bite on Tuesday. Many puns. Many insults. Some sympathy. But few cut to the chase as much as Slate in its contribution to the affair. It introduced him as “Renowned Uruguayan jerk Luis Suarez”. As if every country has a renowned jerk.

It was, as if you don’t know by now, the third time the soccer player had bitten an opponent. It was the third time the same story had been written, talked about, dissected, joked about, Photoshopped, turned into a few hundred memes. Third time on the merry-go-round of such scandal.

Shock was followed by jokes, then demands for justice, some more jokes, Zapruder-film alternate angles, old jokes growing tired, a “but seriously, folks” stage, blaming the media, pressure on his sponsors, other brands making hay from the fun, why do such things happen, the official investigation, reaction to the investigation, more jokes, then being overtaken by whatever’s just happened on another channel.

Previously employed newspaper headlines were dredged up, sports psychologists’ numbers dug out. Even the normally buoyant Sun looked a little jaded, its Photoshopping of horse teeth on to Suárez’s face carrying the ennui of something knocked off out of a sense of duty.

Yet each explosion from Suárez has an ever-expanding blast radius. First it extended outwards from the Netherlands, where his first offence occurred. Then he bit a player in the Premier League, and it went global. But it had gone global only in a soccer sense – the US didn’t count. Until this week.

Now that the US is following the World Cup, it has largely discovered Suárez, too. It meant that every piece acted as a catch-up, a guide to this guy the rest of the planet already knew. (European coverage: “Suárez bites. Again!” US reaction: “Suárez bites. He has done this before. First in 2010, when . . .”)

Still, most of the story’s cycle was run through in its first hours, not just because of the speed of social media but also because it was a story everyone had prepared earlier. Hardly half a day later and it had been so stripped dry, with the media crawling the same small patch of information, that it had already morphed into the features about the wider psychology of biting. Anyone who’d ever done any kind of study on biting – and there aren’t as many as you might imagine – found their previously ignored academic paper being dragged from obscurity.

Nevertheless, one psychologist in particular, Dr Thomas Fawcett, became celebrated for last year predicting that Suárez would indeed bite again. Fawcett was the Paul the Psychic Octopus of this whole affair.

And all the while the Suárez story was part of an even grander cycle. We had reached the moment required of all great sporting events, all epic stories, and which this so-far-dramatic World Cup had demanded.

The World Cup story had its baddie.

There had been minor villains of this World Cup before Luis Suárez stepped forward to become the Darth Vader of the piece. There was the Portuguese player Pepe getting sent off for a headbutt. There had been Alex Song of Cameroon jumping an opponent in the back. But few cared about those, really. The fuss was short-lived. The internet memes were few. Each of them was the star of whatever drama was played out in his own country, in his media back home, but to everyone else he was merely a featured extra in a cast of thousands.

Even within the Italy v Uruguay game it was quickly overlooked that the Italians had lost a player to stupidity not long before Suárez’s transgression, a player whose role in his team’s tragedy might have been greater if it had not been downgraded by what happened next. But what happened next downgraded everything else that came before it. And, ironically, raised the World Cup a notch.

Because after a couple of weeks in which it had been generally decided that it was shaping up to be among the greatest World Cups yet, it got the moment that will live forever in infamy. It got its Hand of God, its Saipan, its Zidane. And it got it from Suárez – whose handball against Ghana fulfilled that role in 2010. Hardly two weeks in and the World Cup story had delivered on almost everything that could be asked of it. All that is left now is for the tragic fall of a hero and the Greeks will have done more for this story than merely reach the last 16.

And it is needed. Because otherwise, after the Suárez incident, what’s left is the creeping fear that a truly wonderful World Cup has already peaked.

shegarty@irishtimes.com @shanehegarty

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