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Sports psychologist predicted Luis Suárez would bite again

Jun 24, 2014, 3:48 PM EDT

NATAL, BRAZIL - JUNE 24: Luis Suarez of Uruguay looks on during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group D match between Italy and Uruguay at Estadio das Dunas on June 24, 2014 in Natal, Brazil. Getty Images

At this point, it’s clear: Luis Suárez’s biting isn’t happenstance. It’s a pattern, one that at least one professional identified a year ago.

That’s what happened after Luis Suárez bit Chelsea’ Branislav Ivanovic in April 2013. Quoted in a BBC story investigating the frequency of adult biting, University of Salford sports psychologist Dr. Thomas Fawcett spoke about the spontaneous nature of the phenomenon, saying anger management was unlikely to help Suárez with what was probably a reflex response.

From last April’s story:

“It’s in the man,” he says. “I would think that in five years’ time if there was a certain nerve hit or chord rung with Suarez in a different situation he would react in the same way.”

[ MORE: Suárez bites Chiellini | Twitter reacts | 'A sneak' | How long to ban ]

Five years? One year? At this point, it’s clear Suárez is pretty far down this troubling road, but it’s important to note the nature of the problem Fawcett’s describing. Also brought out in rugby and other contact sports, biting represents a psychological issue that sports’ normal punishments are unlikely to solve. It may not be a matter of providing a disincentive as much as recognizing the deeper, more intricate problem.

Unfortunately for Suárez, the heightened emotions of high-level sports bring this problem out. From Fawcett, who studied the Ivanovic incident:

“It’s not pre-planned – it’s a very spontaneous, emotional response. He’s doing it on impulse,” says the psychologist, who has studied the footage extensively.

Most often biting is a sign of frustration. A negative response when tensions reach boiling point, he says.

Dealing with Suárez may not be about how long to suspended him. It may be about assessing if he can be helped. We may be entering a conversation that we rarely have in professional sport, one which tried to assess a man is capable of meeting the basic behavioral requirements to play at the highest levels.

If his biting reflex is too ingrained to be held off, how can you put Suárez in high stress situations and assume it won’t come out?

  1. medic0nduty - Jun 24, 2014 at 4:43 PM

    If Dr. Fawcett is right and, in fact, there is no way he can be helped, then it only adds to the case for him to be banned for life. Or at least banned until a professional has verified that he’s overcome it.

  2. edwinhrydberg - Jun 24, 2014 at 5:11 PM

    Biting is not always a sign of anger or frustration, but I agree it’s most likely an impulse he has. I was very surprised by one woman I dated when she first bit me. It was not in a moment of anger or frustration but an impulse for her, at the time, of expressing her interest (impulsively, I still believe). After a few more times, I did eventually get her to stop by saying that I’d refuse to go out with her any more if she continued. It didn’t stop immediately, but she tried, and eventually succeeded, which leads me to believe that this impulse can be curbed. In short, I think he’s probably as troubled by it as anyone else, and would welcome help.

  3. mogogo1 - Jun 24, 2014 at 7:37 PM

    How is biting any more of an impulsive reaction than hitting someone? We’ve all seen plenty of guys strike opponents and I’ve never once heard it suggested that they were somehow incapable of restraining themselves. Tiny children learn not to do stuff like this.

  4. ajonesmc931 - Jun 24, 2014 at 9:02 PM

    Seriously who bites somebody

  5. nyjetblue - Jun 24, 2014 at 10:59 PM

    If allowed to ever play again at the professional level, Suarez should be required to wear a muzzle at all times while on the pitch.

  6. txnative65 - Jun 25, 2014 at 1:44 AM

    No question it’s a pathological disorder, but what more disincentives can be used than being guaranteed the cameras would catch him and he cannot resist action devastating his team, humiliating his country, and holding himself up for ridicule on the world stage. Nuts!

  7. 1historian - Jul 14, 2014 at 8:24 AM

    “STOP ME BEFORE I BITE AGAIN!!”

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