clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Luis Suarez is the greatest pseudo-apologist in sports

The bite-y Uruguayan is one of the best soccer players in the world, and apparently also one of our greatest living pseudo-apologists. Here is how he can do better.

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

"Did something occur? To be honest, we don't know for sure, and it would be unwise to rush to judgment before properly hearing all sides. But if at some point in time an occurrence could be shown to have occurred, and such an occurrence were to have resulted in injury or perceived unpleasantness for any other party beyond myself, that would certainly be regrettable. And could it be further shown that my conduct had contributed in some way to that outcome, it would be unacceptable to me. And certainly if it appeared that I had been a part of the occurrence that eventuated in that injury or unpleasantness, I would regret that. The alleged behavior would be uncharacteristic of me, and not up to the high standards and values to which I hold myself."

That is Luis Suarez apologizing for stealing your car and driving it through the front window of a Popeye's. He appears to ... well, it would seem as if there is some regret? Being felt by a party to the event?

Also, here is Luis Suarez apologizing for biting Giorgio Chiellini on the shoulder during a World Cup game.

It's worth noting that the apology above is a translation of the original, Spanish-language version, and that the phrase translated as "I deeply regret what occurred" is, translated on its own, just "I deeply regret." There are some syntax-related weeds to get into, here, if we want -- that "what occurred" adds a laughable sense of abstraction that's familiar from other flubby, sorry-not-sorry sports-pologies. It makes one grown human biting another grown human sound more like Some Weird Thing That Just Sort Of Happened, like getting pooped on by a bird, say, or having one of the best soccer players in the world fall from the sky and land, open-mouthed and teeth-first, on a meaty part of your shoulder.

Still, as a general rule, it is a good idea to stay out of syntax-related weeds. There are nothing but pedantic ticks and poison oak in there. It is also maybe unnecessary to critique an apology that has already been accepted by the person to whom it was apparently offered. And yet.

And yet there's something galling about this latest contribution to the canon of shitty, unconvincing apologies by famous people, not least because it is already being praised for its "bravery" by Suarez's possible future employers in Barcelona. If Suarez's apology is uniquely strained and weird-seeming, that could owe to the fact that 1) it is a translation and 2) there is not much to compare it to in the realm of Man Apologizes For Biting Man, at least outside Suarez's previous apologies in the two previous instances in which he has bitten opponents during games.

We do have those, though. There is the video that Suarez put up on his Facebook page after biting Otman Bakkal during a 2010 game in the Dutch Eredivisie.

"I am aware I did not make the right decision," Suarez says in that one. "I did something wrong." While he leads with a clear apology, there's also plenty of weird sport-pologetic muddle in there. (My favorite being "I am sorry about what happened to me against PSV," which again has a weird distance about it, as if Suarez were briefly and embarrassingly afflicted with whatever the zombies had in 28 Days Later.) We can gauge the apology's authenticity in part by the fact that nearly three years went by before Suarez bit another player during a soccer game.

That was in 2013, in the English Premier League. Suarez called Branislav Ivanovic after the incident to apologize directly -- this is a quantum leap in apology quality, it should be noted -- and issued a stronger and less qualified public apology. Suarez evidently regretted the incident enough that he went 14 more months without biting anyone.

There is obviously something strange about grading the public apologies of a serial person-biter; even a sincere pledge to never again bite another person during a soccer game is going to scan strangely, because this is not the sort of thing that we hear all that often. If Suarez transitions from biting to giving opponents sloppy licks during games, as he should probably do for the safety of himself and others, we will hear some truly avant-garde apologies, and probably also get to see Arjen Robben pretend to fall down after being licked. We should all hope for that.

Extraordinary circumstances and method of felony assault aside, though, Suarez's failed sports-pologies have the same problems as most others. They're orotund and lawyerly and passive; they scan false and weirdly narcissistic.

This is all fixable, happily. For Suarez, and for the rest of us faced with the unpleasant task of owning our mistakes, it is good to phrase things directly -- "I'm sorry for what I did, and I apologize to the person I did it to" is a good framework, generally. It is also wise to avoid qualifications and obfuscations. In the latter case, maybe say "I bit [most recent person you've bitten]" instead of "[most recent person you've bitten] suffered the physical result of a bite in the collision he suffered with me." Then do the "I'm sorry" part.

But the most important and fundamental aspect of any apology is meaning it. The easiest way to mean it is to remember that other people are as real as you are, and that doing things to them you wouldn't enjoy having done to you -- like biting, which is a nasty thing to do -- is a dick move, and so something to feel bad about. This is the simplest reason why most sports-pologies are so unconvincing: even after all the message-massaging and legalistic qualification, Suarez and his semi-sorry peers are mostly apologizing for something that Happened To Them.

As an added bonus, that basic human realization also tends to eliminate the need to keep revising, refining and repeating (and repeating) each apology, in public. At some point, after you stop expressing deep regret and start actually feeling it, you start apologizing better, and stop apologizing as much. You stop needing to. Every human being is working on this, with varying degrees of success; we might as well wish Luis Suarez luck with it, too.