In all sports we often make the childish mistake of equating ability to morality. Only, in football, the link between the two is more reactionary and less rational. It was not too long ago that Luis Suarez's character was in question, yet even with his international ban still in full effect, the narrative around him has completely changed.
The result of Suarez fitting in and playing exceptionally for a historic Barcelona team has been a year-long rewrite of prejudice the player has harbored for a lifetime. It's alluring to make the connection between performance and personality, but goals and assists do not change the fact that Luis Suarez was unapologetic about racially abusing Patrice Evra.
A year after he racially abused Evra, Suarez was voted Footballer of the Year in the English Premier League. What happened next? Exactly what you'd expect. An array of articles and opinions praised Suarez for overcoming his demons and exclaiming that the striker was now redeemed by a spectacular season at Liverpool where he dragged through a title challenge and ultimately, a second place finish.
More restrained observers offered lesser stakes -- that Suarez's play has started him on the road of redemption. The turnaround in perception isn't surprising. In fact, it was duly expected. It has occurred before, not only with other players but with Suarez himself.
It's an odd thing considering that redemption is defined as the action of saving or being saved from sin, error or evil. And only in sports, and football here specifically, does it mean that playing well is that act required to be saved. Suarez didn't apologize to his victim.
In fact, he shunned Evra when Liverpool and Manchester United met a few weeks later and refused to shake his hand in the pre-game pleasantries. He even went as far to claim that the media were dead set on ruining his reputation and Liverpool both supported his vision and admonished Evra in the same breath.
It was classic victim mentality and it was vociferously supported by those in power, and the Liverpool fans. Rather than rightfully punish the act and counsel the striker, these entities and a handful of writers supported him on the basis that he's good at putting the ball in the back of the net. That was it.
His ability to play football meant that his evils were overlooked and the victim of the saga, Patrice Evra, suffered a harsher penalty for being racially abused than the abuser himself. The memory of Evra being booed on his every touch by the Liverpool fans during the clashes between the two clubs is not something easily forgotten.
It's also more befuddling considering Suarez's defense during the trial. Not only did he repeatedly deny racially abusing Evra to begin with, but after several chances to recant what had occurred, he changed the story numerous times to his benefit, ultimately claiming that he was not abusing Evra but it was all a big misunderstanding.
You see, he was using a term of endearment toward Evra. In the heat of the game. With both players visibly irate. It's unsurprising that the lip-reading expert consulted by the FA did not find Suarez's testimony to be credible.
Suarez's account of the event was an insult to the intelligence of everyone who was paying attention to the story and especially to Evra, as it implied that he was doing nothing but blowing things out of proportion, that he was being too sensitive. The victim was at fault for being hurt by blatant racism.
It was not that different from Suarez's denial after biting Giorgio Chiellini, where he claimed that the Italian defender put the bite mark on himself before the game. And when that excuse failed, he turned to the lie that he was the actual victim -- that Chiellini had pushed the shoulder into his teeth. And, of course, then Suarez claimed that the media had an agenda against him when both of those lies failed. These are clearly not one-off: they're a pattern of pathological lying and a strange need to be the victim.
So here we are again. Suarez has moved to Spain and is one of the elements in the greatest front three that football has ever seen. He not only scores exceptional goals but provides delicate assists to his two partners in crime, Neymar and the effervescent Lionel Messi.
Their performances have propelled a historic Barcelona team to a double and has taken them to the Champions League final where they will face an equally impressive Juventus side. That side harbors two of Suarez's victims: Chiellini, who has forgiven Suarez for trying to sire him, and Evra, who has seen no sign of remorse, and has received no type of apology from the Barcelona forward.
Life has come full circle, it seems. That circular progression is evident again in the emerging voices from Barcelona fans, which are entirely too reminiscent of those of the Liverpool supporters last season. Already the train of thought is in full trudge with revisionist history once again claiming that Suarez was a victim of the English media. Evra's reaction and the subsequent trial was too much, and Luis Suarez is the poor, helpless, angelic figure in this saga.
It's remedial thinking at its best. Fans, and people in general, have difficulty seeing their heroes as flawed creatures. Here we have a player who is obviously good at his craft but has a history of disagreeable behavior. But rather than acknowledge that these two realities can exist on the same plane, they shun his flaws entirely.
Suarez, the man who racially abused Patrice Evra and remains unapologetic about it to this day, is the same man who scores volleys to lift their team to victory. The fact that both occupy the same body is too heavy for fans to handle. So we're left once again with the victim being the perpetrator and the abuser receiving full support.
It shows where the priority of football lies. The talks of respect, saying no to racism and improving the character of the game in general are all lies. The truth lies in the reactions. And it is, frankly, that the morality of a player is bound to how good and enjoyable he is.
All sins are forgiven once the abuser in question is in good form. That's where redemption is earned. Not in recognition of an evil, admonishment of the behavior and apology to the victim, but in the ability to score goals. Goals make everything better.