Published July 02, 2014
World Cup fever has gripped the planet, and yes, that includes North America. I’m not sure I completely understand it, but I’m game — what the hell.
It’s incredibly novel to watch a sporting event without commercials, I feel like I’m getting away with something. But you know what’s really weird? Watching a sport that doesn’t provide a bathroom break. It seems almost un-American.
Think about it. You can’t drink beer, because then you have to go. And you can’t go, because there are no breaks. So you just sit there and hold it and hope that at the end of regulated time, the referee doesn’t come up with some bizarre and arbitrary amount of time to prolong the match. They call it stoppage time, which is exactly as confusing as it sounds.
If the soccer gods, which is – coincidentally – what the FIFA administrators call themselves, wanted to play a cruel joke on Americans, then stoppage time is it. As Americans, there are two things we hate: one is not being able to drink beer, and the other is a lack of timeliness and punctuality. Stoppage time achieves both and is exactly why soccer will never become a mainstream sport in the good ol’ USA.
But while the World Cup is here, I say we make the best of it. In fact, some of it is downright enjoyable. I especially like the part where they ban a Uruguay guy with a really common name for his extremely uncommon playing style. This guy bites. No really, he bites! Luis Suarez bit an Italian fellow and got kicked out for four months and nine games, effectively ending his World Cup bid.
This was not his first foray into incisor intimidation, or bicuspid battling if you prefer. In fact, this is his third offense. I guess “three bites and you’re out.” Puns aside, there has been some outcry about the harsh punishment for the crime, even from the victim. Giorgio Chiellini wrote in his blog on Sportslobster.com: "I believe the proposed formula is excessive. I sincerely hope he will be allowed to stay close to his teammates during the games, because such a ban is really alienating for a player."
Chiellini, it seems, actually feels sorry for Suarez. “There only remains the anger and the disappointment about the match. At the moment, my only thought is for Luis and his family, because they will face a very difficult period.”
Chiellini isn’t the only person voicing his displeasure. More expectedly, so is Uruguayan president Jose Mujica. Mujica says that FIFA’s harsh sentence was aimed at punishing Uruguay for beating powerhouses like Italy and England. He smells a conspiracy.
Does that sound crazy? Slightly yes, but nowhere near as certifiable as what he goes on to say after that. Mujica claims that he understands why Suarez bites opposing players. It’s that he was raised poor. That’s right. As Mujica explains things, Suarez never got a proper education and was raised among the poor, so he has to resort to biting to cope.
OK, because he’s not just some ‘Jose’ at a bar, but actually ‘Jose’ the president of Uruguay, I guess we should consider what he’s saying. Is growing up poor and uneducated a viable excuse for biting? Put another way, does being poor make you bite people? It sounds silly, but hey, let’s take a look at this by examining history’s most infamous biters.
Mike Tyson. Tyson had made nearly $300 million at the point in his career when he famously chewed off part of Evander Holyfield’s ear during a fight in 1997. He would then go on to bite Lennox Lewis’ leg in a pre-fight press conference in 2002. Tyson grew up poor and dropped out of high school as a junior. Chalk one up for the president, Tyson meets his critique about poor and biting. OK.
Let’s move on to Marv Albert. He was embroiled in a sex scandal in 1997 that included biting a woman on the back. Albert was a huge personality on NBC sports (and Letterman) when the incident occurred. He grew up well-off and was a graduate of NYU, so his “teeth of terror” were clearly not the result of lacking an education or growing up in the wrong neighborhood. Albert does not pass the Mujica test.
Count Dracula was a wealthy Transylvanian gentleman with ties to nobility and his own castle. He bit quite a few women, not because he was uneducated or poor, but mainly because he was a vampire. Dracula also does not pass the Mujica test.
Finally, there’s Cujo. This rabid Saint Bernard used his canines, bicuspids, and incisors to terrorize a fictional Maine town in the Stephen King novel of the same name. As ludicrous as this may sound, a purebred Saint Bernard is not a common street dog, it’s a dog with pedigree and papers, and is a star at the yearly Westminster Kennel Club dog shows. Saint Bernard’s don’t just roam the streets. (They do roam the Alps, but usually saving people’s lives). What was Cujo’s excuse for biting? Rabies. Cujo does not pass the Mujica test.
In the end, with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek, I can conclude that only Mike Tyson meets the Mujica test. That means the president is one for four. That’s not so good.
But you know what else is not so good about Mujica’s comment? It makes him sound like a typical limousine liberal. It also shines a spotlight on a character flaw that most of us who hail from Latin America know all too well.
We are different. We are not like the ‘gringos’ who have a tendency and history toward racism — no, that’s not us. We mix and mingle with blacks, Indians, Asians and everything in between. We’re not racists, we’re something which is no better — we’re classists. That’s right, we treat the poor and uneducated as a servile group from which nothing good should be expected.
I was reminded of this on a recent trip to Lima, Peru. My host, a Peruvian-American businessman, had a bell on his dining room table, which he rang whenever he needed his servants to attend to him. Being raised in America I became uncomfortable with the arrangement and told him so. He actually wanted me to ring the bell, but I refused and asked why it was necessary.
He expressed to me that it was what ‘they’ expected. And that I would be doing them a disservice if I failed “to keep them in their place.”
That’s the real Mujica test, one that sets the bar ridiculously low and keeps it there for way too many of our people.
President George W. Bush didn’t get a lot right, but he nailed it when it comes to best explaining what is wrong with the Mujica test.
“It is the soft bigotry of lowered expectations.”