On Tuesday evening, the FA announced that an Independent Regulatory Commission had found Liverpool striker Luis Suarez guilty of the racial abuse of Patrice Evra during a match between Liverpool and Manchester United in October. The FA's statement, for those who need reminding, reads (partially) as follows:
1. Mr Suarez used insulting words towards Mr Evra during the match contrary to FA Rule E3(1);
2. the insulting words used by Mr Suarez included a reference to Mr Evra's colour within the meaning of Rule E3(2);
3. Mr Suarez shall be warned as to his future conduct, be suspended for eight matches covering all first team competitive matches and fined the sum of £40,000;
4. the [penalty] is suspended pending the outcome of any appeal lodged by Mr Suarez against this decision.
Does this mean that Suarez is guilty of racist abuse? On the one, and probably more important hand, yes. The FA believes he's guilty, and as far and Liverpool and Suarez is concerned they're the ones who actually matter what with the ability to ban the Uruguayan for a shocking number of games and fine him an amount of money that would be considered obscene in almost any other profession.
On the other hand, which could be considered even more important if you're feeling philosophical ... no. No it doesn't. It just means that the FA has decided to declare Suarez guilty of racially abusing Patrice Evra, which is manifestly not the same thing. As of yet, the public have been presented with no compelling evidence that this is an accurate reflection on the true state of affairs, and so we're left trusting the FA to have gotten things right.
A quick aside: Admitting agnosticism as far as the Suarez case is concerned is most emphatically not the same thing as believing that Suarez is innocent. As a wise Vorlon once said: Understanding is a three-edged sword: Your side, their side, and the truth.
In the immediate aftermath of the verdict's announcement, there was at least one very reasonable question raised. Where was the evidence? Patrice Evra's accusations hardly constitute proof on their own - one would hope that a reasonable panel would not automatically side with the accuser in situations like this if a thorough investigation had failed to turn up anything - and while it seems sensible to assume that the independent commission did indeed act rationally, that's no less an assumption than that Suarez was innocent, an assumption for which his supporters are currently being pilloried.
There were some more questionable points of debate thrown around as well, which I'm going to ignore because it's completely understandable for individuals to overreact and say stupid things while an event like this has their passions aroused. Fans. Fanatics. It happens. Those rather more desperate-sounding questions do nothing to take away from what we should be asking until the FA releases their detailed files: On what evidence are we convicting Luis Suarez for a reasonably despicable act?
The potentially healthy discussion around this not-that-difficult point then met a premature end at the hands of Liverpool FC, who released what is potentially the most ill-advised statement in the history of the Premier League. We tend to expect polished PR-speech coming from clubs when something big is going down, which made what actually emerged from the bowels of Anfield a monumental shock - a poorly argued, defensively-worded maybe-even-libellous diatribe against the FA and Evra that denied the very possibility that Suarez could have been guilty of racial abuse. It even went so far as to play the absurd 'Suarez can't be racist because he has friends of multiple ethnicity' card, which is such an insane defence that I can't even finish this sentence without making fun of whoever wrote the thing.
Naturally, said statement was seized upon and torn to shreds by pretty much everyone who wasn't a Liverpool fan, leaving a small segment of vocal fans supporting their club's deranged utterrings and generally causing themselves much embarrassment. Presumably the sane majority were hiding somewhere, but that only led to the unfair assumption that the loud crazy people were speaking for Liverpool fans. The fact that Liverpool Football Club was amongst the lunatic group didn't help either.
In one fell swoop, the debate had completely shifted. A reasonable, balanced statement from Liverpool could have highlighted at least one important question and fostered some sympathy towards a team that could very well* be the wronged party. Instead, they took up a bundle of legitimate and manufactured grievances, added some righteous fury and set the whole thing alight.
*I say, without weighing in either way, before the evidence is released.
I'm sure it felt good at the time, and to anyone already convinced of Suarez's innocence, it must have read like biblical truth. That doesn't make it anything like a sensible move on Liverpool's part. The agnostics, recognising that the club had just done something monumentally silly, immediately shifted towards the other end of the argument and spent the rest of the day pointing and laughing at the crazy people (an eminently sensible approach, when one is on the internet and therefore insulated from the possibly violent consequences). Worse, from Liverpool's point of view, by openly accusing the FA of bias they've probably severely damaged their chances of a successful appeal which would presumably have seen Suarez's sentence reduced.
We'll be better equipped to judge Suarez for ourselves when the FA releases the promised evidence, at which point we'll have a far clearer idea as to the actual facts. Until then, we're left with a debate that Liverpool have contrived to reduce to an insane shouting match. Well done, guys.