James Lawton: Luis Suarez can rely on Liverpool to redraw the line every time he crosses it

The force of any kind of working morality tends to have the luminous strength of that candle blowing in the wind

How jolly it apparently is that Mike Tyson, who delivered the first bite to briefly nauseate the modern sports world, has enlisted as a Twitter follower of Luis Suarez.

The macabre joke was particularly appreciated on Match of the Day 2, whose play on the words "bite" and "bitten" had become an epidemic before the jaunty conclusion that there was as much chance of Liverpool getting rid of Suarez as of the Liver Birds flying across the Mersey.

It's some joke – and some statement on the ruling morality of not just football but most of professional sport.

The quality of humour has been particularly strained these last 24 hours if you happened to be in Las Vegas that desperate night nearly 16 years ago.

It was bad enough before Tyson, who a few years earlier had served a term of imprisonment after being convicted of rape, entered the ring a few months after being thrashed by Evander Holyfield in the first fight. One associate of Tyson was allowed a public platform to make the gleeful announcement that Holyfield would be leaving town in a coffin. This earned some whoops of applause.

However, one of the more relevant memories now is of the impromptu, impassioned post-fight speech made by the referee, Mills Lane.

A lively character who accumulated so much fame in his ring career that he graduated as a TV celebrity, Lane is not a man around whose views you would automatically attach too much credence.

He had a fine career in the US Marines and as an attorney and district judge in Washoe County, Nevada, but politically he was somewhat to the right of Genghis Khan before a stroke incapacitated him some years ago. It means he will not be travelling to his investiture at the American Boxing Hall of Fame later this year. Some of his more controversial comments include the assertion that former President Bill Clinton would not have survived Parris Island, the Marine boot camp, and that the only appropriate form of gun control is to have two hands on the weapon.

Still, in Vegas he made some compelling sense. He pleaded for a line to be drawn in the shocking degeneration of values in big-time sport, saying: "We give these guys millions of dollars and allow them to think they can doing anything they like. So maybe we shouldn't be surprised when we see the kind of thing we saw tonight. We talk about sport but we are kidding ourselves. We should talk about big business and the big dollar, and how it has come to rule everything in what we like to call sport."

For June 1997, read April 2013. Suarez isn't a rapist, his entourage doesn't chortle about body bags and coffins, his life is not some largely unbroken picture of what can happen to someone like Tyson when he is trapped in some rat- and drug-infested building in one of most putrid corners of Brooklyn, but we are avoiding the truth if we do not see at least one parallel.

It is that because of Suarez's talent, because of Liverpool Football Club's dependence on his extraordinary level of ability, it is extremely unlikely that he will be moved out of an organisation which still likes to pay sentimental lip service to a reputation built brilliantly, even on many occasions, nobly over the years.

Suarez, we are told, is just too valuable for such a brusque exit. If he goes, it will be for no less than the £40m plus evaluation he carried, at least before he bit into an opponent – Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic on this occasion – for the second time in his career.

He is also extremely popular with his team-mates and the vast majority of Liverpool supporters, many of whom spent much of last year arguing that their hero's conviction for the racial abuse of Manchester United's Patrice Evra was a result of a conspiracy between Evra's club and the Football Association.

In such a situation the force of any kind of working morality, any instinctive belief that some things should be more valuable than winning a football match – perhaps, for example, confidence in the character and the natural promptings of those who represent you – tends to have the luminous strength of that candle blowing in the wind.

Liverpool, if they again put the protection and support of their commodity before the call of decency – as they did so palpably in the racism case and some fairly egregious, even by the standards of today's game, cheating – will be neither the first nor the last sports organisation to seek out some kind of compromise. Not that it will ever be described as such, of course. It will be some hard-headed pursuit of the real world, a supremely practical assessment of an embarrassment that will pass soon enough.

When the big striker John Hartson kicked his West Ham United team-mate Eyal Berkovic in the face during a training session much mirth greeted the suggestion that, for the image of the club, the Welshman's contract should be torn up. The folly of such a proposal was exposed when some time later Hartson was sold to Wimbledon for £7.5m. Earlier some Manchester United officials were said to be pushing for his signing, a proposal that was eventually squashed by Sir Alex Ferguson.

The United manager had no such misgivings, however, when his own iconic Eric Cantona delivered the Hartson treatment to a Crystal Palace fan. He approved a six-month club ban which anticipated a slightly longer punishment by the Football Association.

Some serious trawling is required while pursuing an instance of a club deciding that some players, whatever their level of ability, are simply not worth the trouble. Newcastle United might make a case after granting Joey Barton a free transfer two years ago. This enabled him to earn £65,000 a week before making an even more lucrative move on loan to French club Marseille, from where he is naturally bombarding us with his support for Suarez. Barton tells us that a player of Suarez's ability has to play on the edge, which perhaps doesn't give us a perfect insight into why Barton once jammed a cigar in the face of a young clubmate at Manchester City.

Newcastle removed Barton (below) from the premises because he was deeply unpopular at the club. Liverpool do not have quite the same impetus when they consider their approach to Suarez.

Having swiftly fined him, and issuing a statement of almost formal disapproval, Liverpool are now expected to await the grinding wheels of FA justice. They can expect him to receive at least as severe a ban as the seven matches imposed by the Dutch FA when he bit into PSV Eindhoven opponent Otman Bakkal and then, presumably, they will sit it out and hope for a little breathing space before the next outrage.

Helping this process, of course, is Suarez's penchant for profound and instant remorse – when it is clearly the only resort – and his sense that he is employed by an organisation which has become too dependent on a single talent. As we were saying, Liverpool are hardly alone. Ajax's disgust that they were harbouring a player capable of doing grave damage to a reputation built by men like Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten may have been swiftly acted upon, but they widely canvassed his availability before quickly accepting Liverpool's offer of £22m.

But then at least they recognised a line beyond which they would not venture. It was the same one the crusty old Republican Mills Lane attempted to draw all those years ago. While he was doing it he was just a short walk from the Nevadan desert. Now it is Liverpool lost in the sand.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete tomorrow
News
Piers Morgan tells Scots they might not have to suffer living on the same island as him if they vote ‘No’ to Scottish Independence
peopleBroadcaster has a new role bringing 'the big stories that matter' to US
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie performs during her Kiss Me Once tour
musicReview: 26 years on from her first single, the pop princess tries just a bit too hard at London's O2
Life and Style
Moves to regulate e-cigarettes and similar products as medicines come amid increasing evidence of their effectiveness
healthHuge anti-smoking campaign kicks off on Wednesday
Life and Style
fashionEveryone, apparently
Voices
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
Arts and Entertainment
A new Banksy entitled 'Art Buff' has appeared in Folkestone, Kent
art
Arts and Entertainment
Shia LaBeouf is one of Brad Pitt's favourite actors in the world ever, apparently
filmsAn 'eccentric' choice, certainly
Life and Style
An Internet security expert has warned that voice recognition technology needs to be more secure
techExperts warn hackers could control our homes or spend our money simply by speaking
Extras
indybest
News
peopleBenjamin Netanyahu trolled by group promoting two-state solution
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style