Why Would Luis 'Cannibal' Suarez Bite Someone?

PHOTO: Uruguays Luis Suarez holds his teeth after running into Italys Giorgio Chiellinis shoulderPlayRicardo Mazalan/AP Photo
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Uruguayan soccer player Luis “Cannibal” Suarez appeared to bite an opponent’s shoulder during Tuesday’s World Cup match against Italy. And he’s already been suspended twice for biting two other players in two other games.

So what’s with all the biting?

“Really, the cases where I’ve seen this tends to more so be in children,” said Dr. Harsh Trivedi, the chief medical officer of Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s behavioral health program.

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Children who bite usually do so because they haven’t developed coping mechanisms to deal with their strong emotions, such as talking it out, finding an adult or walking away, Trivedi said.

“You really can’t take that into a professional soccer match and say it’s a justifiable reason why someone would bite,” he said.

By the time most children reach first grade, they've stopped biting their peers, said Felipe Amunategui, a child and adolescent psychologist at UH Case Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio. If not, they usually wind up in one of his clinics, he said.

Trivedi said Suarez likely didn’t think about biting the Italian player, he was probably just overcome with emotion in the heat of the match. Amunategui agreed, adding that the bite had “more of an impulsive flavor” to it given that Suarez was on a world stage and knew that sanctions would be inevitable if he did it.

Trivedi is less concerned about boxer Mike Tyson, who bit off part of his opponent’s ear in a 1997 fight. Because it only happened once, it doesn’t signify a pattern, Trivedi said.

But Suarez is a little more worrisome, he said.

“The fact that for him, this is the third time now that he’s done this in a match is the more concerning piece,” Trivedi said. “I haven’t come upon this as a repetitive behavior in an adult athlete.”