Criminal Conduct & Sports: Luis Suarez – World Class Biter

By Hayes Hunt and Calli Varner

Suarez2.jpgYesterday, Uruguay striker Luis Suarez bitbite2.jpg Italian defender, Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder like a piece of pizza. Uruguay advanced to the knock-out round of the World Cup and Italy was eliminated. Suarez also took a huge bite out of Uruguay’s chances of winning the World Cup. This was the third time he has bitten a player during a soccer match.  FIFA has opened an investigation into the incident and Suarez will likely be suspended for the remainder of the World Cup.

Last year, Suarez, while playing for Liverpool, was suspended for 10 games for biting a Chelsea player.  Suarez issued a public apology and paid a fine.  British Prime Minister, David Cameron, stated that Suarez’s conduct set “the most appalling example” to children. Like a child, Suarez attempts to resolve his anger by biting other people.  Unlike most children, Suarez does not learn from being punished, accept responsibility, or show remorse for his bad behavior. In 2010, he was banned for 7 games when he bit PSV Eindhoven player, Otman Bakkal.  As a result, he earned the nickname the “Cannibal of Ajax” and now, “Count Suarez.”   

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Unlike soccer, American football, hockey, and boxing are based on repeated physical assaults. These occurrences raise questions about the liability athletes face (or do not face) for acts of aggression taking place on the field during the game. Of course, when a player steps into that zone, he or she assumes certain risks — the risk of any loss, damage, or injury that may occur to him or her while on the playing field. The athlete also has given informed consent to any injuries that may occur — he or she has full knowledge of the risks associated with athletic competition and consents to those risks. Under these theories, it would seem as if athletes are protected from tort liability for incidents or injuries administered to an opponent. What happens, though, when the conduct at issue extends beyond aggressive competition and rises to the level of criminal conduct?

FIFA.jpgHere, Suarez’s actions, if taking place off the field, would be deemed criminal. You cannot walk down the street and bite someone without criminal punishment. Suarez, however, has never been charged criminally; he was merely suspended for a number of games, despite the fact that this is not his first offense. This incident, of course, brings up memories of the 1997 Tyson v. Holyfield fight, where Tyson bit off a portion of Holyfield’s ear. Rather than face criminal penalties, Tyson was fined $3 million and his boxing license was temporarily revoked.dog1.jpg

Evasion of criminal liability, however, is not always the norm. There are numerous incidents where the conduct of NHL hockey players has resulted in criminal charges. Most recently, Todd Bertuzzi of the Vancouver Canucks punched Steve Moore of the Colorado Avalanche in the back of the head, rendering Moore unconscious. Bertuzzi then fell on top of Moore, crushing him into the ice. Moore sustained numerous injuries, including fractured vertebrae and a concussion. In addition to fines and suspension, Bertuzzi was criminally charged with assault causing bodily harm and faced up to one and a half years in prison. Bertuzzi later pled guilty to the charge and was sentenced to 80 hours of community service and one year’s probation.

The inconsistencies in these sanctions show that there are no “rules of the game” when it comes to criminal conduct on the playing field. Governments may enact legislation if FIFA and other governing agencies fail to punish the repeated criminal acts of a player.

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About the Editor
Hayes Hunt concentrates his practice in the representation of individuals, corporations and executives in a wide variety of federal and state criminal law and regulatory enforcement matters as well as complex civil litigation. Hayes is a partner in the firm's Commercial Litigation Department as well as its Criminal Defense and Governmental Investigations Group.
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