Culture House Daily

Morally, can we justify giving Luis Suárez a Player of the Year award?

26 April 2014

One of football’s many beauties is in encouraging us to forsake unfortunate strictures of accepted behaviour; as long as it’s at the game, we can sing, swear, cuddle strangers, and even care about stuff without fear of ridicule. And, perhaps best of all, we’re entitled to rejoice in the dastardly; it’s entirely justifiable to drool over the respective oeuvres of Roy Keane, Thierry Henry and Sergio Busquets, if they so tickle you.

The game can also serve as a masking agent for off-pitch indiscretions, and remind people that personal matters are precisely that. Kenny Dalglish somehow wore links to the Clerkenwell crime syndicate, and though plenty of people dislike Wayne Rooney, it’s generally not on account of his nocturnal activities.

But every now and again there arrives an individual who forces engagement with regular sensibilities; consider Luis Suárez. While the biting, diving and complaining – and consequent indignation – can be considered part of football’s joy, the racial abuse of Patrice Evra remains extraneous to it. To recap, Suárez first admitted, then justified the offence, and most recently, allocated chunks of blame to every resident of England – when all he had to do was apologise.

And there has been significant collateral damage. He exposed his club and many of its supporters as blinkered at best, institutional racists at worst, while Arsène Wenger, whom it might have been supposed understood some things to be more important than winning, also made clear to the contrary. Then, a few months ago, Suárez was presented with the Football Supporters’ Federation a player of the year award, a single gesture that could have alienated its entire constituency – yet, at the same ceremony, journalists and celebrants frottaged over how charitably he accepted their adulation.

But given that Suárez is, indisputably, the country’s best player, maybe it makes little sense to ignore him on ethical grounds – rather, so to do would be intellectually dishonest. And this is likely the sole element considered by Evra, who voted for him as this season’s PFA Players’ Player of the Year.


There is a more obvious case for his omission as regards the football writers’ award – its originator, Charles Buchan, suggested it be presented ‘to the professional player who by precept and example is considered by a ballot of members to be the footballer of the year.’ But otherwise, the award is either presented to the most deserving case, or not.

In which case, the key question asks whether it is morally legitimate to glorify the work of the morally illegitimate. This is a debate that has long been settled as regards culture, which fought at length to exclude all moral dimensions and impositions from its assessment, art separated from artist. As such, the genius of a sex abuser like Roman Polanski, and even of antisemites such as Roald Dahl, T.S. Eliot, and Richard Wagner, whose bigotry informs their work, can be enjoyed for its own value and sake – and ours too.

This is so, not because of any rejection of morality, but because morality isn’t what art does. We rely on it to tell us about our world, which it often does by exploring moral issues, or through a moral sentiment or dimension – but to do so honestly and with integrity, it must be unbound by strictures directing it towards a particular opinion, perspective or conclusion. For the same reason, when Maria Miller asserted that “our focus must be on culture’s economic impact,” she unwittingly revealed a total lack of suitability for her job at DCMS.

Accordingly, if football can be categorised as art, then the various bodies keen to honour Suárez might be ok – and it is certainly possible. We are encouraged to conceive of the world differently, experience a sweeping narrative, and the manner of performance – particularly that of Suárez – displays a particular attitude towards life. In both deed and demeanour, he provokes us to feel things, appreciate space differently, and, most importantly of all, is aesthetically engaging and demanding.

This is also handy for those who prefer talking in words to talking in numbers; there’d not be much point discussing Picasso’s painting completion stats, or plotting Lord Olivier’s average position. And, in the case of Suárez, perhaps we are obligated to applaud him, exalting him in song no different to humming along with the Oompa Loompas, Jellicle Cats and Tristan und Isolde, or rationalising the world by reference to Chinatown.

Yet, there remains something distasteful about Luis Suárez being named player of the year, particularly in a game and a country that, however much it might like to think otherwise, has far from triumphed over racism. Football’s curiously hypocritical, parochial morality is part of its charm, but Liverpool fans lauding Suárez as some kind of saviour-martyr, whilst haranguing Evra for being abused by him in the pursuit of a competitive advantage, is extraneous to that.

Though rewarding Suárez’s footballing prowess is intellectually and morally justifiable, it need not override more profound feelings of right and wrong. Racism is the most appalling blight on our planet, and our duty as human beings is never to override instances of it. Rehabilitation and redemption is achieved, not by becoming even better at football, but through repentance.

Daniel Harris is a writer, mainly for the Guardian. His most recent book,The Promised Land, tells the story of Manchester United’s treble season

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  • Joonas

    Absolutely no ill feelings and wish Luis Suarez all the best at Barcelona. It would have been easy for him to just slip one year with us without doing much, but delivered his best performance in a season yet. So fair play to him.

    Suarez will not be worshipped as he was here, that is a fact, but he said he always wanted to play for then some time in his career. So i guess he is ready for wat comes.

    And LFC will always move on, as with the earlier similar occasions.

  • Alexander

    it depends if you’re watching the football or a gossip

  • chrisw27

    Who is this “we” in the headline who are giving out the award?

    It’s the PFA Player of the Year award, so you and me don’t get to decide it, professional footballers do.

    So what you mean is can they morally justify it, not us. Maybe you could have interviewed some of them?

  • Dinesh Sai Arumughapandiam

    Yes it is morally justified. Its the player’s football that matters.

  • Steve Lawrence

    Should we allow a mewling fairy to publish op-eds at frivolous online journals? We are at a moral crossroads as a society.

  • Trygve Lie

    Who is this dimwit and who thought this drivel should be published on a serious website?

  • Mike S

    Daniel Harris is a writer for Red Issue, the Man Utd fanzine where Hillsborough jokess are still very much de rigueur. You’ll pardon me if I don’t take any lectures on morals from him.

  • radicaljoe

    “To recap, Suárez first admitted, then justified the offence, and most recently, allocated chunks of blame to every resident of England – when all he had to do was apologise.”…Someone else who never followed the case – or is hoping that his readers didn’t when typing this nonsense. Suarez never admitted the offence, never mind justified it. He appealed against the charge that he said the things that Evra claimed. And, with no witnesses and no video or audio evidence to support Evra’s claims the FA panel went with Evra’s version becasue he seemed more confident and at ease when questioned by the panel – which is hardly surprising given Evra was an old hand at these things, having been hauled in front of another FA panel only the year before.

  • EnglishPablo

    Racism the most appalling blight on our planet? Really??? Remove head from a$$ and take a look around. Countries being torn apart by war, kids starving, Russia/Ukraine on the brink of starting WW3, African countries on the brink of simply dying and you think racism is worse… lol! Racism IS an issue, no doubt, but it’s being used more and more by 2nd rate hacks like yourself to get more column inches. To elevate themselves into self righteous positions of relevance. We make fun of gingers, the obese, the short, the tall, Jews, Japanese, Chinese, Americans in fact just about anything that we feel falls outside ‘normal’ but try saying ‘wow that guy is blacker than the ace of spades’ in a loud voice and see what happens…..

    • Steve Lawrence

      Yes, we do make fun of those people, but to be fair, they all deserve it.

  • Bedman0

    The last time I checked no-one from the FA or the Premier League has found Suarez to be a racist person.

    They in fact found “a reference to the ethnic origin and/or colour and/or race of Patrice Evra contrary to FA rules”.

    The head of the Kick-it-Out campaign, Lord Ouseley, said: “This charge is not saying Luis Suarez is a racist. It’s saying, on this occasion, he used racist language.”

    That took 2-minutes of Googleing. It makes me wonder how much research went into this article.

  • Jams

    Article didn’t make sense until I got to the ” His most recent book,The Promised Land, tells the story of Manchester United’s treble season” …

  • merilea

    “Racism is the most appalling blight on our planet, and our duty as human beings is never to override instances of it.” Yep, worse than murder, abortion, bubonic plague, famine, all the rest.

    Is this man for real?

    Harris, please never stray away again from the safe haven of the Guardian loony bin where you belong, there’s a good chap.

  • merilea

    Suarez won the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award, good for him. I’m sure he won’t be reading this piece of ludicrous verbiage. For Daniel Harris, clearly an over-sensitive liberal whiner, the act of “racism” (whatever that really means because for the likes of Harris races are just social constructs) is clearly a worse crime than murder. Oh and by the way, Suarez’s grandfather is black – another good reason why this silly article should have been strangled at birth.

  • Baron

    Daniel, if what Suarez did were the only racism in the world we would pat ourselves on the back, rejoice. Not unlike what happened with rape, your lot has totally devalued the word, stripped it of its true meaning, and this piece of yours proves it.

  • SimonToo

    Different people have different attitudes to certain distinctions of race. Some try to be oblivious to racial distinctions, others do have different attitudes. Embrace diversity and do not expect deeply refained thought from the association football community.

  • Owen_Morgan

    Can we make Daniel Harris, “a writer, mainly for the Guardian” (good luck with that, then), “a writer, exclusively for the Guardian”?

  • Michael

    Goodness… such narrow minded and generalised opinions in this article… get with the times… people change and accept correction… I wonder if you want your mistakes held against YOU for the rest of your life. Everyone has the opportunity to put things right

  • El_Uruguayo

    If Suarez were a racist, I’d be with you – morally wrong to give him the prize – can’t have someone espousing racism for the kids to see on a weekly basis on TV, let alone give him a prize for it.

    But for a racist, you have to give him credit, his weekly hugging and kissing, and celebrating with his black teammates must be some new racisism – perhaps showing another race too much love, or maybe their is something condensending about it. For a racist, he sure spends a lot of time hugging black guys, in public, on internationally televised events.

    Or maybe the logical explanation is that it would be immoral not to give the award to someone who has worked hard to earn it, redeem himself against the countless critics who will go to no end to attempt to discredit him, and is an example of someone who very literally embraces people of other cultures and races.

    • Bobby Jones

      for a guy who isn’t racist, you have to give him credit, his action of racially abusing a black player must be some new anti-racism

      • El_Uruguayo

        Hold on a second here. If you are saying Suarez “racially abused” someone for making mention of their skin colour, in a culturally acceptable manner, with no pejorative or derogatory connotation said use, merely using the spanish word for “black”. Then you sir have just “racially abused” all black players, in your use of the word “black” coupled with player.

        Negro means black, nothing more nothing less. Even though it might sound similar to the french nègre (which is how Evra understood it) or Negro (neegro) in english, or Nig*er, they have nothing to do with each other. French has a word for the colour black, it’s “noir”, English it is Black, Spanish it is “negro”. The only thing Suarez is guilty of is making reference to skin colour and using a word that in his language unfortunately sounds like a derrogatory word in English.

        The irony of the over-the-top PC BS is that it totally failed to take into account the context of a Latin American speaking in his own language, because his skin colour is associated with being an agressor – the approach in itself was bigotted.

        Don’t get me wrong racism is a very real and serious issue, applying the label racist to someone is a very serious label, and shouldn’t be applied lightly, willy nilly, especially in such an ambiguous situation – cultural misunderstanding does not equal racism.

        • Sean L

          That misses the point – it’s not the word itself but the context. Even if he said “black” five times in rapid succession, as is alleged, it would still be considered racial abuse.

          • El_Uruguayo

            From a language perspective, there’s nothing racially abusive in using the word black, unless it is accompanied with a negative qualifier – not the case.

            I guess context for “racial abuse” in england is defined by using a term to describe skin colour, when speaking with someone from a different race.

            The use of the word “negro” is 100% equivalent saying something like “buddy”, “dude”, “my friend”, “man”, “bruv”, ect.

            But I guess I will concede it is possible that 100% of brits are experts on the use of colloquial Uruguayan Spanish – you’re telling me how it is – I guess I should take your superior knowledge at face value, everything I know is worthless – the superior blue blood has spoken 😛

            • radicaljoe

              Not 100% of Brits, just the hand-wringing middle-class who, despite their efforts to denounce the evils of imperialism, have no problem with telling a foriegner what words in their language really mean.

              • Alan Nocker

                I’m not an expert on Uruguayan Spanish but I have lived in Peru for 25 years and know Peruvian Spanish pretty well. In Peru friends can and often do call each other by nicknames..flaco is skinny, gordo is fatty, mono is monkey, chino is Chinese, negro is black. It’s accepted and acceptable when used to a friend. If as Suarez did someone used these phrases in an aggressive manner then it would not be acceptable or accepted. He may well not be racist but he was being racist. Whether any of this should impact on his award as player of the year is another matter. He is the best player, he should be voted best player. It’s not the best behaved best player of the year.

  • anncalba

    Ah, football, the Beautiful Game. Millions of under-educated kids around the world (including the UK) who believe the dream, just kick a ball and be a millionaire. And many very sad men whose whole lives revolve around how well “their” (foreign owned and corrupt) team does every week. But, dream on.

  • Sean L

    To the point and well argued. Not.

  • oldestel

    “Racism is the most appalling blight on our planet, and our duty as human beings is never to override instances of it.”

    I think it comes some way behind middle class sanctimony.

  • kle4

    Racism is certainly abhorrent, though I’m not sure, given the horrors of the world (some of which is undoubtedly fulled by racism, though not all) is ‘the most appalling blight on the planet’.

    As for allowing Suarez to be named player of the year, that would depend on the criteria, if the award included setting an example beyond being a footballer for instance. It is perfectly possible to give him player of the year award and still say it is wrong to be racist. Artists, inventers and celebrated men adn women without counting have been downright horrible people but their achievements are still recognized, as you point out – you seem to have accepted the position of the morally bankrupt in cultural activities having their work celebrated despite their distasteful natures, so why Football is any different I’m not sure. If he is deemed the best player then that can be accepted, it doesn’t erase anything else he might be unless we let it. You can simply choose to acknowledge it grudgingly if you want.

    • Sean L

      I don’t always understand what is meant by “racist”. Without further qualification it could mean adherence to some racially based political doctrine. But it doesn’t at all follow that because I’ve slandered your racial appearance in a physically combative moment on a football pitch, perhaps after you’ve just kicked me in the shins or scraped your studs down my calf, that I harbour any deep-seated grievance against your racial type as such. But when the words we,ve uttered are continually repeated and publicised their original context is forgotten and they take on a life of their own, to be interpreted in ways that may bear little relation to what we intended. What is said on the pitch, in the bedroom, kitchen, office, wherever, has its meaning there. Once it gets repeated it becomes something else, in this case a political football.

      • kle4

        There is something in what you say. Making a comment, however wrong, is not all someone is, if there is not evidence that they hold deep seated persistently terrible views. However, it is rarely worth attempting to argue the point that someone doing a bad thing does not mean they are definitely a bad person (though they may be), as it will be seen as excusing the initial bad behaviour, however despicable one might find racism (and I find it both despicable and baffling)

  • bobby_r

    Rambling, cultural name-dropping, pointless article which chucks around the Left’s favourite word without understanding what it actually means. Back to the Guardian please Daniel.

  • Bluesman_1

    “Should we allow a racist to become Player of the Year?”



    Just a thought, has he been convicted of a crime?

    • oldestel

      Yes, by the author of this article.
      What more do we need?

      • ianess

        Suarez is mixed-race. I thought that meant, according to Guardianista guidelines, that he can never be guilty of ‘racism’.

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