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Monday, February 13, 2012
Luis Suarez's move leaves us shaking our heads

By Julie Foudy

Admit it. You sing "It's a Small World" to yourself every now and again (full disclosure: it's daily for me) and, when you do, you get that warm, fuzzy feeling inside.

It's a world of hopes
And a world of fears
There's so much that we share
That it's time we're aware
It's a small world after all

Ahhh ... we can just all get along.

Until the song comes to a SCREEEECHING halt after Liverpool striker Luis Suarez goes ahead and ruins it.

A quick recap for those who have no idea who Suarez is and what transpired:

• In December, Suarez was banned eight matches by the English Football Association's independent panel for calling Manchester United's Patrice Evra "negro" numerous times in an Oct. 15 matchup. Suarez, who is from Uruguay, tried to defend himself by saying "negro" is an inoffensive term used in Uruguay and other South American countries, and it was all a just big cultural misunderstanding, not racism. (I can see it now, a thief trying the very same argument. "Hey, in the neighborhood I grew up in, stealing was a daily ritual. So, really officer, this is all very normal.")

• Fast forward to Saturday. Liverpool and Manchester United met again in what was Suarez's first game back since his suspension. Anytime Liverpool and Manchester United play, it is going to be heated, that is a given; they are the two most successful clubs in English soccer history. Now, add the fact that Suarez is about to play against the very man he was charged with racially insulting to the already volatile mix.

• As per tradition in soccer -- one I never quite liked as a player, but appreciated its purpose -- both teams exchange pregame handshakes. And, as everyone could ascertain -- the casual viewer, the hard-core fan, even my English mother-in-law who does not like soccer -- Suarez had an opportunity to make things right, to rise above, to stop blaming cultural differences, to show that regardless of whether he thought he was wrongfully or rightfully suspended, he has respect for Evra and soccer's movement against racism. He had a chance to show, quite clearly, it is a small world after all (because I cannot get the song out of my head).

ALL HE HAD TO DO WAS SHAKE EVRA'S HAND!!

But, instead, we are all left shaking our heads.

Suarez decided not to shake Evra's hand in the pregame handshake and, with that decision, the toy soldier who comes out on the hour popped an artery. To make matters worse, Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish actually tried to defend Suarez in the postgame interview. One day later, likely in response to overt pressure from Liverpool's American owners, Suarez and Dalglish apologized on Liverpool's website.

"I have spoken with my manager since the game at Old Trafford [on Saturday] and I realize I got things wrong," Suarez said via a statement posted Sunday on Liverpool's official website.

Hmm, never a good sign when it takes a day and a conversation to realize you got it wrong, especially something this wrong. You could have pulled a bunch of 5-year-olds together for a focus group and they would have known how to get it right here.

My reaction one day later and with overt pressure from no one: disappointment.

I am not sure that, given another chance, Suarez will convince us he is a great player with corresponding great character. I still go back to the Uruguay/Ghana quarterfinal at the 2010 World Cup. Ghana was denied a goal by Suarez's self-declared "new hand of God" when he blatantly stopped a Ghana goal in extra time by using his hands. Ghana missed the penalty and Uruguay advanced. What struck me was not so much his action, but his reaction after the game. He gloated in the victory and his hand-ball role.

That incident did not sit well with me then, and the Evra incident does not sit well with me now. There are too many cracks. And if I am Suarez's teammate, manager or owner, I'd be starting to worry if this boat may be just like The Tevez Titanic after all.