Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Mercy Side: The Language of Football

If you’ve been following me on this site for some time you should know by now that I’m a Liverpool fan. I cover Liverpool matches on this site. I’m a member of the official Liverpool FC forums. My family are Scousers and while I have a Welsh accent, I’m a Scouser too. But I’m also a football fan, and I’d like to think I’m an unbiased fan at that. If you read my Live Thoughts on the Liverpool matches I hope you would see that I try to see the game from a biased Liverpool perspective, but when incidents occur, I take off my Red glasses and see things for what they are. Penalties, controversial decisions, for or against the Reds, I give my opinion for what I see, not for what I want to see.
The reason why I’m explaining this is because of the extremely sensitive subject, which is of the racism incident from October, when Liverpool’s Luis Suarez was accused of racist remarks towards Manchester United’s Patrice Evra. Unless you don’t follow football or have been living under a rock, Suarez has been handed an 8 match ban and fined £40,000 for these remarks, an unprecedented amount in this situation. I’m giving my take on the situation here, which isn’t easy, especially as there is so much speculation and grey clouds hanging around the issue.

Evra, on a French TV station, claimed that Suarez says “a certain word” “at least 10 times”. Suarez in response told the Uruguayan media, “There is no evidence I said anything racist to him. I said nothing of the sort.” “There were two parts of the discussion - one in Spanish, one in English.” “I did not insult him. It was just a way of expressing myself. I called him something his team mates at Manchester call him, and even they were surprised by his reaction.”

The word if you didn’t know that has highly speculated to have been used is “negrito”, which is a variation of the word “negro”, which means “little black person”. The Negritos were a class of ethnic people who inhabited parts Southeast Asia. The word “negro” is used a lot more, and means any person of black ancestry. The word was never considered offensive, just like the term “black” is not often considered racist nowadays. That was until the 1950s and 60s, when the Civil Rights movement considered a word attached closely to the slavery and discrimination to black people in the past. Since then the word “negro” is more often than not considered offensive.

However, in certain Spanish cultures, including Uruguay, the word has a positive meaning. The word can be associated with “mate”, and “friend”, just like a lot of black people use the word “nigger” in a similar manner (something which frustrates me as I believe black people shouldn’t use a word used against them so disgustingly in such a harsh time in their history so freely and in a positive way, but that’s a different discussion). So from what we can tell, Suarez used the word “negrito” or “negro” at least 10 times during this match. That’s the bottom of it.

The FA’s response to this was to charge Luis Suarez of using “abusive and/or insulting words”, in “”reference to the ethnic origin and/or colour and/or race”. The hearing took place last week, and yesterday the outcome is the 8 match ban and the fine. Liverpool then said in a statement yesterday that they are completely behind Suarez, do not think of him as a racist, and are surprised at the outcome based on the fact that Patrice Evra alone, and no referee or teammate has said anything otherwise. They haven’t appealed yet, but all things point to the fact that they will.

So, my take on all of this? There’s a lot of things to say about it. Firstly, racism is a disgusting thing that unfortunately still exists in today’s modern society. If anyone is being racist, or saying things with intent to discriminate on origins of ethnicity, then it’s a shameful act and shouldn’t be tolerated. But was Luis Suarez being racist? No I don't think he was, but the argument is frustratingly justified.

On one side, you have a guy from Uruguay, who speaks Spanish, who has spent less than a year in England, learning the English language and getting used to the English culture. What we have seen from Suarez as a player in the last eleven months is someone who is extremely intelligent, both with his feet and with his tactics. We bought Suarez in January and I said it at the time – it’s all fine and dandy getting someone like him, but I still didn’t agree with his influence on the game between Uruguay and Ghana in the World Cup last year. In case you forgot, the game was level, and he intentionally handled the ball in the penalty box when the ball was shot at goal and would have gone in if it wasn’t for his hand. He got the red card that was deserved, but Ghana missed the resulting penalty. Suarez, heading towards the exit, saw the missing penalty and celebrated like he just scored the winner himself. Because, in theory, he did; Uruguay went through and Ghana lost the match in controversial circumstances. All because of this little Uruguayan menace, a menace who has since dominated English club defences like no one else. I absolutely love Suarez. He’s the most exciting player in a Liverpool shirt since Steven Gerrard at his peak three or four years ago. He does things not many people can do, his ability to play between midfield and defence, and between defenders is absolutely amazing. But then there’s the other side. Luis Suarez goes down very easily. Luis Suarez complains if any decision goes against him. He has become the new Cristiano Ronaldo of the Premier League, and we all know how annoying that was when the boot was on the other foot. But a lot of Reds tolerate it, in fact; embrace it, as he wins us penalties or free kicks in dangerous areas. It doesn’t make it right, but it’s hard to not be happy when decisions like this work for us, because when they’re against us it’s absolutely frustrating.

Suarez gets under a lot of people’s skin, both on the pitch like a professional and exceptionally skilled footballer. But he also gets under people’s skin because he’s very vocal on the pitch. From what we’ve seen, everything seems cordial, or at least standard, when it comes to the altercations between him and other players. Tensions are always high on the pitch, because footballers are usually passionate when they’re playing, and the fans help keep the intensity going with chants and in derbies, some heckling. It does get out of hand, sometimes the fans start some disgusting chants and they’re usually dealt with, just look at Celtic for evidence. But there’s an unwritten law on the pitch, one that seems universal, which is, what happens on the pitch, stays on the pitch.
It’s similar to wrestling in that respect; sorry to bring it up if you dislike the ‘fake’ sport. There are things that are said or done in wrestling matches. Sometimes wrestlers hit each other hard, it’s called a stiff shot, to demand respect and to test your nerve. All you have to do is hit them back, maybe even harder, to show them that you won’t be bullied and that you’re not going to take that type of disrespect. I’ve read about this in many autobiographies. Wrestlers don’t talk about their matches when they get back into that locker room. It’s considered disrespectful to talk about how good or bad your match was, because there are other people who have or have to wrestle before or after, and it’s not nice to brag or to have an ego (unless it’s part of a character on screen obviously).

This is similar to what happens in a football match. Certain things are said. Nasty things. Players swear at each other, they push each other, they might cross the line. But when the final whistle blows, all the players shake hands, talk about the game, and are kind and respectful to each other. It’s rare that off the pitch altercations happen between players, very rare.

And this is where I think in a certain way Patrice Evra took things a little too far. If Suarez did indeed call him a “negrito”, it was to rile him up, to put him off his game. That’s why players swear or insult each other on the pitch; it’s to get a reaction, to put the opposition off, to make it harder for them to concentrate on the task at hand. Suarez has done this all season; he’s done it his entire career. And he’s not the only one, loads of players do it. And if Suarez did call him a “negrito”, it wasn’t with intention of racism. It was with intent purely to put Evra off his game. Evra took this too far in my opinion. And there’s the argument that a “negrito” in Uruguay is your “mate”, your “brother”, or your “nigger”, in a friendly way, not in a racist or discriminatory way.

But I’m also of the opinion that maybe it is time that players stop this type of behaviour. Maybe it’s about time players should stop insulting each other, and to stop any verbal bashing. Players are passionate, I can appreciate that, but there’s no need for this language and attitude. But it does happen all the time, probably in every match across the English leagues and more than likely across the world. Football is a game played with your feet but it’s also with your head, and Luis Suarez knows how to play the game in both ways.

I do however believe the FA has taken a harsh stance on Suarez, I mean, eight games? Seriously? That’s basically 6 weeks. A red card is three games, and you get those for shattering a player’s leg in half, putting them out of action for months or maybe up to a year and opening up a ton of problems for the rest of that player’s career. That affects someone’s life for good. But saying a word that someone finds offensive gives you nearly three times the punishment. Something’s not right here. But then again, I’ve been reading what journalists have been saying on the matter. And most of them are in favour of this harsh punishment, and if anything, support the idea of increasing bans for these horrendous tackles.

And providing that the FA take this stance with all racism issues in the future, then I think long term, I’m okay with this. Seriously. Am I happy we potentially have no Suarez until February or March? Absolutely not. I’m as frustrated as any Red out there. But if it means that other players watch their tongues on the pitch, and most recently, John Terry of Chelsea gets the same punishment of a ban of 8 games for his remarks towards Anton Ferdinand of Queens Park Rangers, then I’m okay with that. The FA needs consistency. And if this is their new punishment for disgusting comments on the pitch, then fine. I’m okay with that. And I think Liverpool need to be as well. Most people who are not a Red are reading the official statement on the website as an over exaggeration, blind support of a player who like it or not has said something that can be considered racist. We are in England, not Uruguay. If a white Englishman called a black Englishman a “negrito” in a Premier League match then we’d all consider that disgusting, unacceptable and deserving of a ban. And that’s what we have to abide to, and if we don’t see it this way then we’re in denial.

It took me a lot to come to this outlook. On Tuesday night I was seething, I was angry and I was completely against this ban, or at least, the amount of games the ban is for. I saw the LFC statement and rallied behind the club, thinking they were spot on and took matters to a level required. But… I woke up yesterday morning; I looked at the headlines, looked at how things seem in other parts of the country and the newspapers and journalists, and saw things differently. I’m not saying that if Liverpool appeal and we’re successful and have Suarez back that I’m not going to be happy, of course I will be. All I want is consistency, and for racism to be taken seriously. And if the FA are to begin this clamping down on racism and unnecessary comments on the pitch, then I’m all for it. I’m annoyed it started with Suarez, but I’ll be happy if it starts with Suarez, moves on to John Terry and then on to other players who use repulsive language on the pitch. I’m all for that. And while they’re at it, they can increase bans on players who maliciously tackle people and shatter bones and tear muscle, putting the long term injuries to justice.

Saying horrible things on the pitch is something that is often considered the language of football. Something that just happens because of the passion and tension on the pitch. After the match everything’s forgotten. It shouldn’t be this way. If players say nasty things on the pitch, racism or not, they should be punished. The language of football needs to change, and if there’s one thing that should be gained from Luis Suarez’s punishment, it’s that the FA are hopefully going to clamp down on this unwritten rule once and for all.
But if I’m completely frank, I don’t think the FA will keep this consistency. I think the FA are trying to make an example out of Luis Suarez, and possibly John Terry, but in the next few weeks or months things will return to normal. I don’t think anything is going to change, which is a damn shame. I think it will start with Suarez and end with Suarez, or maybe Terry, and that’s it. As a Liverpool supporter the whole thing really annoys me but as an unbiased fan I’ll be happy if it starts with Suarez and becomes a signal of intent to stamp out racism or disgusting remarks out of football for good. We can all hope.

Do you agree? Disagree? Is the ban too harsh, or should they increase the bans on disgusting tackles? Should Liverpool appeal or not? Will the FA use this harsh stance for all occasions? Let me know your thoughts by commenting below. Thanks for reading.

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  1. In this case Evra should also be punished, as were his comments racist also?

  2. I totally agree. Especially as it's been admitted. The reason why he's not being punished is because Suarez didn't report it post match.

  3. It's a pretty complex situation, one that is dividing Liverpool fans more and more.

    I don't believe that Suarez was being inherently racist, something that both Evra and the FA have attested to, but that doesn't change the fact that actions that are legitimate and acceptable in certain societies are not in others. The problem arises when an action such as this is carried out in a society where it is not the norm - Suarez has to adapt to the country where he is living and working now, not the other way around.

    It pains me to say it, but to see the Liverpool players and Kenny acting as if we have been wronged in some severe way since the announcement is shameful. I understand the support mentality they are propagating, but the way they are acting is severely damaging the reputation and image of this club. We are far bigger than one man, and a simple statement until we had the Commission Report in our hands would have sufficed. "Luis is maintaining his innocence and the club is awaiting the finalised report before making its next step known." This is far less damaging to the club, and the Kick It Out campaign, while still maintaining support for Luis.

    The ban is not harsh with respect to the charge. 8 games for a racial slur? Deserved - I understand that this case is not so straightforward, but breaking it down to its bare bones and that's what it comes to.

    The major problem with this case for me is the "trial by media" that Suarez underwent (and I don't buy into the Ferguson conspiracies for one second), but it did seem as though minds were made up in October. The FA took far too long to deliver a verdict, and the likes of Gus Poyet, Stan Collymore, Paul McGrath, etc. have absolutely nothing to do with the process - their input has been just as damaging as anything else.

    I'd like to see the finalised report before making any subsequent comments and wish Suarez all the best with his appeal. I don't think he meant it in any severe manner, but this kind of behaviour cannot be tolerated in any sense.

  4. I agree with most of what you say Mr Anonymous, and I do think Liverpool have gone too far. Liverpool are fully behind Suarez, and have emphasised that a lot. Now I think we should just get on with the football and stop 'protesting', so to speak.

    Your best comment is definitely the part where you said Suarez has to adapt to English rules and culture, not the other way round. It's pretty much hit the whole situation on the head and we can support Suarez all we want, but in the end Liverpool are an English club and the laws of football and culture are English. It's as simple as that.