When you bite someone you leave a mark, perhaps even puncture the skin, but the pain subsides quickly and the indentation fades over days. The mark left on your career, now gnawed three times, persists rather longer.
When you racially abuse someone, you do something worse: you invoke and reinforce centuries of barbaric oppression and despicable discrimination. The result of which is a still deeply imbalanced world, with decades of passionate, unrelenting and heartbreakingly noble civil rights movements failing to eradicate the structural and social racism which pervades today. How could it, when it is so deeply ingrained?
One act nibbles at the shoulder, the other gorges violently on the soul.
Luis Suarez is guilty of both, of course. After sinking his teeth into Italy's Giorgio Chiellini, Suarez has now committed the first of these distasteful acts no less than three times and has been rightly hit with a nine-game ban by FIFA, and a four-month ban from all football competition.
What is often ignored is that Suarez was found guilty of committing the second, rather more serious act, no less than seven times during his infamous dispute with Manchester United's Patrice Evra. But it should not be forgotten: amid the furore of his latest lapse, it is timely to recall that biting someone, even three times, is not his most heinous crime on a football pitch.
If there has not been outright revisionism over Suarez's racial abuse of Evra, there has at least been an obscuration of the facts. Even otherwise authoritative, fascinating and wonderfully colourful profiles of Suarez have fallen down on the basic facts of the matter, repeating the mantra of so many Liverpool fans that he was accused of using the word 'negrito', rather than actually admitting his use of 'negro'. 'Negrito' appears once in the FA's 115-page written reasons for Suarez's eight-game ban, and only then in a paragraph referring to an entirely separate incident involving Javier Hernandez.
The two key words absent from this whole episode are, of course, 'I'm sorry'. Suarez has never apologised to Evra; indeed he has continually railed about his punishment and blamed all but himself, cooking up elaborate conspiracy theories while ignoring the most salient fact.
This is what made claims of his rehabilitation last season - apparently inspired by the fact that he scored a lot of goals and turned up to a supporters' event to collect an award - so hollow. As noted back in February, rehabilitation only begins when you admit there is a problem. Suarez has never once done so. Still he feels persecuted, rather ironically.
So why bring this up now? Shouldn't we have moved on by this point? Shouldn't we allow time to be a healer? After all, didn't Patrice Evra vote for him in the Player of the Year ballot?
It is important because there is a common theme to these two threads of the Suarez story. On both occasions, the racial abuse of Evra and the biting of Chiellini, Suarez has been indulged and defended on an institutional level. Those who should have admonished Suarez have instead been apologists for this unacceptable behaviour.
We need not revisit Liverpool's risible conduct over the Evra incident in too much depth, save to note that an official club statement incorrectly accused the Frenchman of having played the race card, for want of a better phrase, on three occasions. Even more astonishing was the sight of Liverpool's players and then manager Kenny Dalglish - arguably more culpable than most - wearing t-shirts in defence of a man who had racially abused an opponent.
Liverpool's defence of Suarez enabled him to play up in future. Their institutional backing for the player and their active role in perpetuating falsehoods allowed him to create the illusion that in fact he was the victim, that he had been wronged, when evidence pointed firmly to the contrary. Uruguay, lamentably, are following the same trend, but on an even more deluded scale. Right from top to bottom they have shielded their eyes and pretended nothing had happened.
When asked on camera yesterday whether Suarez had bitten Chiellini, a preposterous man named Alejandro Balbi, Suarez's lawyer, somehow managed to keep a straight face when replying: "No. Suarez's mouth hit against the Italian player's shoulder."
Uruguay's manager, Oscar Tabarez, denounced the Suarez criticism as a media plot - not the first time, apparently, that the reigning Football Writers' Association Footballer of the Year has been viciously and unfairly targeted by the press - while captain Diego Lugano situated himself beyond the realms of fantasy with a hilariously deluded interpretation of events in Natal.
"Have you got something against Luis?" he said to the BBC. "Everybody knows the British media have an issue with Suarez. It must sell newspapers in England. Otherwise you wouldn't be here. I don't know what a British journalist is doing talking about Suarez. It must be popular with the British media. I don't see another explanation. The images do not show anything, just a collision between two players. Nothing important."
Uruguay president Jose Mujica also chose to ignore compelling TV footage: "We didn't choose him to be a philosopher, or a mechanic, or to have good manners – he's a great player. I didn't see him bite anyone. But they sure can bash each other with kicks and chops."
From legal representatives, to the team captain and manager right up to the president, Uruguay as a country is apologising for Suarez on a grand scale. Is it any wonder he feels persecuted by others (and mostly the British press) when a whole country is telling him he has done nothing wrong? It is as if Suarez is the head of his own cult.
But in Natal, the rest of the world was confronted once again with the indisputable fact that Suarez does not do reform and rehabilitation. He does not learn from previous misdemeanours. And sports psychologist Dr Tom Fawcett, of Salford University, told the BBC: "If it's happened before, it'll happen again. Despite all the help, he's going to do it again."
The Evra situation - which he has still never apologised for - remains an open sore for Suarez and one which he revisits with a burning sense of injustice. That Liverpool allowed that sense of injustice to develop is on their conscience. Now Uruguay are doing the same after his latest biting episode, and they look every bit as ridiculous.
Suarez must take responsibility for his actions, but so must the institutions which employ him.
Tom Adams - @tomEurosport
- Sports & Recreation
- Luis Suarez
- Patrice Evra
- Giorgio Chiellini