The protests are increasingly vitriolic, and, therefore, increasingly amusing to the impartial observer. 'Impartial' being a misnomer, of course -- there are few football-watchers who are indifferently disposed towards Liverpool and Uruguay striker Luis Suarez.
And why should they? The list of offences is long. He bites. He dives. He complains. Spectacularly. All the time. He's been suspended for racially abusing Patrice Evra and has played the victim ever since. He managed to offend an entire continent with his infamous handball during the 2010 World Cup. Unless you're a fan of Liverpool or Uruguay, you don't like him.
Which is fine, of course. Nobody's obligated to like anyone else, and football does need its villains. There's not much more gratifying than seeing Suarez in full-on tizzy mode, especially when he's complaining about a decision that's entirely correct. Suarez whining is funny.
But. But! While it's fun to see a player you don't like upset at the referee for no good reason, it's far less fun to see him persecuted on the rare occasions where he's actually fouled; when he's right to go down. And with Suarez, you see this happen all the time.
Against Sunderland, the striker exaggerated a foul in the box and went down theatrically. He was booked for the crime, as if embellishment somehow cancelled out the obvious foul against him. The home loss against Manchester United saw Antonio Valencia get a penalty for what was essentially nothing, while Suarez was denied what we might conservatively describe as an obvious call.
And then today against Norwich, Suarez was clattered from behind by Canaries defender Leon Barnett, who came nowhere near the ball when he ran straight through the 25-year-old in the box. Again, there was no call. Unlike the previous two matches, this one turned out not to matter -- Suarez scored a hattrick and had an assist in a 5-2 Liverpool win*, their first of the season -- but the moralisation was still there.
*Annoying though he may be, there are few players more delightful to watch when they're on their game. And you forget who they are.
The Boy Who Cried Wolf is supposed to teach children not to exaggerate the need for help, because then it becomes more difficult for people to determine what's actually serious or not. And that, obviously, is what's going on with Suarez. His reputation, as smug commentators point out ad nauseam, precedes him, and he's being punished for previous dives by not having calls go in his favour.
But while Suarez has made his life difficult, we shouldn't be accepting of a situation where referees make judgements based on a player's reputation. A foul on Suarez shouldn't have to be more blatant than a foul against anyone else -- referees are supposed to be impartial arbitrators of football matches, not enforcers of the fans' collective notions of good and ill.
Dislike Suarez all you like, but the simple fact is that he's being discriminated against. While football is meant to be many things, a morality play is not among them. He's committed offences, certainly, but he's been punished fairly (some would say harshly) for them, and served his time. But he's still being persecuted. Suarez's -- and by extension, Liverpool's -- treatment at the hands of officials has been appalling.
And it's probably never going to stop.