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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest in Sport
Sport
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

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map