Luis Suarez is not a cheater - he is a hero. He is the primary reason Uruguay has advanced to the semifinals of the World Cup after a dramatic shootout victory against Ghana. So the fact that FIFA was considering a two-game ban that would prevent him from playing in the Cup final or consolation match - depending on how they fare against the Netherlands - is ridiculous. (It ended up limiting the suspension to the semifinals.)
If you're not familiar with the qualities of a cheater, allow me to enlighten you with an example. After one my practices this spring, head coach Kevin Farrell told us Navy had withdrawn from Towson's spring invitational, one of the biggest college golf tournaments in the area, and we got a 12th hour invite.
We left the next day, played our practice round and prepared to get crushed by some nationally recognized programs like the Tigers, Kent State and UNC Greensboro. Sitting in dead last after the first day (two rounds), there was little we could do in the final round to make us look any worse. Little, but not nothing.
As the low scorer on the team from the first two rounds, I was the last player off for the final round. After I turned in my scorecard and grabbed lunch from the buffet, I returned to the dining area to find - well, none of my teammates. I can't say I was surprised; no one had played particularly well and we didn't move out of the basement so I figured they were in the van waiting for me to eat. I was right about the van part.
Two of my teammates came inside moments after I sat down and told me we had to leave. I told them to let coach know that I'd be out in five minutes after I ate. They let me know that that probably wasn't a good idea, because of Brandon's incident. I knew who Brandon Powers was, but I knew nothing of this incident. (Yes - his initials are "BP".)
A sophomore and a player who had one of the higher ceilings for potential on our team had a major lapse in judgment that day. Powers was struggling and everyone knew it. So when he walked off the ninth green (we started on the back nine) and proudly signed for a score of 79 that contained multiple birdies, Farrell was baffled.
Not only had Powers told everyone during the round that he wasn't close to breaking 80, but that he also had no birdies. After doing a little detective work and going through Powers' scores hole-by-hole, Farrell got Powers to non-chalantly admit that he actually shot 87. A combination of the embarrassment of his poor play and the fact that he couldn't handle the pressure led him to shave eight strokes off his final score. That, my friends, is cheating.
It did not just disqualify him from the tournament, but it humiliated our program. Although my eligibility has been exhausted, the returning players will probably suffer through not being invited to some tournament's because of Powers' selfish act. It was bad enough that we finished last in the tournament with the strongest field in school history, but absolutely nothing positive came from his decision to cheat.
Fast forward to yesterday afternoon and the final moments of extra time between Uruguay and Ghana. The match was tied and the final whistle surely about to blow when the home-continent Black Stars initiated one final onslaught. With just precious seconds remaining, a goal would have spelled the end of Uruguay's pursuit of its second modern day FIFA world title and made Ghana the first African team to ever reach the tournament's semifinals.
But with the goalie beat and the ball headed for the back of the net, Suarez did what any level-headed, competitive person would have done and blocked the ball with his hand.
If he hadn't done that Ghana win* 2-1. Instead, Suarez was rightfully given the automatic red card for an intentional goal-preventing hand ball. What made this play justified was that the final whistle was seconds from blowing, meaning that Uruguay would not have to play the rest of the match with 10 men and would still have a chance to win in penalty kicks. That is, as long as Ghana didn't convert the penalty kick for Suarez's foul inside the box. Asamoah Gyan, though, blasted the potential game-winner off the top of the crossbar.
*Does it bother anyone else that countries with singular spellings are treated as plurals by all the commentators? Instead of Ghana wins, they say Ghana win. Spain just won its match against Paraguay and the commentator said "Spain celebrate!" In the second half yesterday, you wouldn't say Brazil sucks, you would say Brazil suck. Brazil suck what? Never mind - don't answer that. I'm just rolling with it.
So Suarez was gone, but his team was not. With the gift of a second chance in the shootout thanks to Gyan's gaffe, the Olympic Sky Blue won the match 4 - 2 on extra kicks and is one result from the final match. Without Suarez's handball, Uruguay would be on a plane home (hopefully without incident).
There were many actions in the World Cup far more despicable than what Suarez did, because his act wasn't despicable with which to begin. When an Ivory Coast player ran into Brazil's Kaka (one of the best players in the world) in a group play match and flopped to the ground, the referee sent Kaka off because it appeared as if he decked the Ivory Coast player in the noggin. And in the waning moments of the USA's loss to Ghana, there was the Black Star who laid on the pitch in the fetal position until carried off by a stretcher, only to jump off the stretcher as soon as he reached the sideline. This, of course, was a grimy, time-wasting tactic that further thwarted the Yanks' chances to force a shootout. Actions like those make you want to lock those players in a cage with Mike Tyson's tiger and throw away the key.
But Suarez? His only intention was to win. He deceived no one, hid nothing, and was punished with the proper red card and one-game suspension. This is the same, on a smaller scale, as fouling an opposing player who has a breakaway layup in basketball, or tackling a wide receiver for pass interference before he outruns you for a sure touchdown. If you say you would not have done the same thing then you're either not competitive or hate your country (in which case I hope you're from North Korea). What Suarez did in fact was an athletic sacrifice of the most beautiful kind. With little regard for the fact that he would not be allowed to play in the semifinals - against the world's second-ranked Dutch squad - he made sure that he would at least have an opportunity to reunite with his team in the finals.
Spoiler alert for this paragraph: It's like at the end of Amageddon when Bruce Willis stays behind and detonates the asteroid so that his daughter's boyfriend, Ben Affleck - Willis's fellow astronaut - could return to earth and marry her. The only difference is that Willis was never going to be able to go to the wedding.
I forgot the match was even on to be honest. I had watched the Flying Dutch stun Brazil that morning, but was in Bel Air to work all afternoon and met my parents downtown so they could help me pick out a television for my new apartment. (I went with a 40" Samsung from Best Buy.) As fate would have it, I walked into the first store just in time to see the last 10 minutes of extra time and penalty kicks. What better way to begin TV shopping than to watch an epic, chaotic ending to a World Cup match?
My first reaction to the ending was shock. All I knew was that I had seen an amazing finish. But as time passed I realized how great of a play Suarez had made to keep Uruguay's hopes alive. Then to hear murmurs that he was being called a cheater was appalling. And let us not forget that not only did Ghana have a chance to beat Uruguay in penalty kicks, but Gyan could have also won it with his Suarez-produced penalty kick.
When I was about nine years old and my little league team was trailing by a run in the bottom of the sixth inning, I stood on first base with two outs. Some kid who I think was named Travis hit a double to left center as I sprinted for home. I made it safely and when I returned to the bench my dad asked me if I had missed third base. Embarrassed that he noticed I told him yes, but at least it wasn't on purpose. We ended up winning the game. And yes, despite my good intentions, that was cheating. But at least I never shaved eight strokes off my scorecard in a tournament.