Suarez – (Still) Not A Racist

Suarez – (Still) Not A Racist
January 4, 2012 Paul Tomkins

By Paul Tomkins.

Luis Suarez is still being labelled a ‘racist’, and Liverpool FC are being castigated for supporting said ‘racist’. Never mind that the FA’s findings stated, quite clearly, that they felt that he was not a racist.

And never mind that if those at the club truly believe their employee, colleague and friend to be innocent, they have every right to support him. So many in the media have shot down anyone who dare suggest Suarez is innocent, as if the guilty verdict was handed down by the Lord almighty.

To suggest that you cannot support a man who has been found guilty by one single, partially-independent panel (clearly under pressure to make an example of someone, if you read many of the editorials on the subject) based on the balance of probabilities is insane.

Just look at the amount of people found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of crimes due to police coercion in the 1970s, and go and tell their supporters that they were wrong to stand by their loved ones who were later fully exonerated. Whatever the crime, you have a right to stand by someone you feel incorrectly treated, and not be seen as condoning what it was they were accused of. Normally, you’d be able to make a full appeal. All the reporting on this issue states that only the sentence could have been appealed.

Yes, people support the genuinely guilty, too, out of blind faith, but Suarez is not a man found definitely guilty by the highest courts in the land, after all appeals and judicial reviews failed. He was found probably guilty by three men in room.

Probably. (This isn’t even a Carlsberg ad; and anyone who’s drunk that lager will know that it’s almost certainly not the best in the world.)

Admittedly, hardly anyone comes out of the report well: Suarez, Evra, Liverpool (and its sloppy legal representative), and the panel themselves, who, despite writing 115 pages, left far too many holes, and took far too many leaps of logic.

Anyone reading it looking to find pantomime villain Suarez guilty will see their confirmation bias duly satisfied (just as officials ‘saw’ Joey Barton’s headbutt the other day, or why Craig Bellamy should have been booked for being forehead-prodded by Clint Dempsey),  but anyone looking to find faults – as people should, with every judicial process – will discover plenty of disconcerting inconsistencies.

(More on the inconsistencies here, from Stuart Gilhooly, who “is the solicitor for the Professional Footballers Association of Ireland and was also recently named Journalist of Year at the Irish Magazine Awards.”).

That these faults are only being found by Liverpool fans is not the point; they exist, no matter who points them out. (It’s probably the case that only Liverpool fans have the motivation to question the inconsistencies. Daniel Geey, a football lawyer, has promised to share his view on this site as to the reasons why Liverpool would have had a case, had the process allowed a proper appeal.)

Suarez was not found guilty due to the weight of evidence proving it beyond a doubt; he was found guilty on the balance of probabilities, based on a verbal exchange that lacked even one first-hand witness. The only witnesses to be called heard no more than what the participants had later told them; less ‘he said, she said’ and more ‘he told so-and-so, she told so-and-so’.

The video evidence proved nothing as to what was said. And even what was claimed to have been said had to be deconstructed by linguistics experts, with others noting that the report’s findings – as to what was said – were incompatible with the Spanish language, as used by anyone who speaks it.

(See this, for more on the language issue.)

In cases where it’s essentially one man’s word against another – including what the two parties told people after the event – miscarriages of justice are rife. Look at the Innocence Project, which, coincidentally, is thankfully freeing lots of black men imprisoned decades ago because someone said, often with all honesty, “it was him!”. I’ve seen women who swore on oath that Man X raped them apologise 20 years later, when DNA proved it was Man Y. Memory is an unreliable witness.

These were cases where juries were supposed to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt; not just say “hmm, it’s probable”. Given the seriousness of the accusations aimed at Suarez, “it’s probable” doesn’t seem fair at all.

In cases built on words only, you have to try and discredit the witness who makes the accusation. What else is there to go on? Otherwise false claims can be made without compunction.

If the ‘victim’ stands up to scrutiny, all well and good. I’m not sure that in this case, either party seems particularly reliable; either because they are wilfully twisting the facts, or struggling to remember them. And whilst having a story straight suggests truth telling, it can also be reminiscent of practiced liars; just as having a confused story can simply mean that you were confused.

In this case, I’d say that it’s possible that Suarez is guilty as charged.  With so little evidence, anything can seem possible; it’s how conspiracy theories get their oxygen, after all.

I’d also say that it’s possible that he’s not guilty; not least given the fact that his accuser was criticised for giving unreliable evidence in a previous FA hearing (after the Stamford Bridge fracas). After all, if you lied or misled in court, your testimony at subsequent trials should be worthless.

Again, I’m not saying that Evra was lying this time. I’m just saying that I don’t see enough evidence to saddle Suarez with a conviction that, even though the wording claimed otherwise, would doubtless lead to “RACIST!” headlines.

Suarez did admit to using the word ‘negro’ (pronounced neg-gro) once; plenty of media outlets have since claimed that he admitted to using the far more racially loaded term, negro (as in knee-grow) on seven occasions. That he made this admission is not true.

Suarez’s defence was that in Uruguay, such language is commonplace, and not deemed offensive; our culture loads the word with meanings that do not exist in his country, where racial integration has been rife for much longer.

Just because an adjective was used in an argument, it does not mean the adjective was laden with hatred; presumably why Suarez was found guilty of ‘referencing colour’, rather than being a racist – although the guilty verdict means he’ll just be labelled a racist anyway.

If offence was taken by Evra, it’s fair to understand why; however, he initially admitted that he took offence due to thinking that Suarez meant ‘nigger’, which he later admitted was wrong. So there’s a lot of misunderstanding inherent in the case.

What I would question is Evra admitting to the use of “your sister’s cunt” to Suarez to initiate the exchanges, and getting away with it scot-free. That falls foul of the FA’s rules, but nothing appears to have been done. And when only one side gets punished, it smacks of bias.

I also think that, by choosing to speak in Spanish, Evra in essence dictated the linguistic nuances; this may have been on English soil, but it was not an English dispute. After many years here, Evra presumably speaks good English; yet he chose to insult Suarez in Spanish.

Apparently, in Spanish, “your sister’s cunt”, means something less incendiary, like “fucking hell”. But while Suarez was held to literal translations of what he said, Evra was not. It was ‘just a saying’. Also, the idea that Evra was in deep shock from a slight kick on the knee, just seconds before he goaded the Liverpool fans in the Main Stand by kissing his badge on the touchline, is hard to reconcile.

Again, the report correctly notes that Evra was even getting into a lather over the coin toss. He does genuinely appear like someone who – with a history of spats in his career, including one at Stamford Bridge and one with France in the World Cup – was looking for a fight; and equally, there’s no denying that Suarez is someone who could get involved in a contretemps on a deserted island. Both of them are ‘winners’ who get carried away, to put it politely.

For the misjudged, if not malignant, use of the Spanish word for ‘black’, which also just happens to be spelt the same way as something deemed very offensive in the West, Suarez could have been given a small ban and an explanation about how it could easily be misconstrued in our culture. (Just as we hope to see Brits abroad not being taken to task over foreign customs they are not aware of; despite ‘ignorance of the law being no defence’, we don’t like to have to stick to their rules, wherever ‘over there’ may be, if we think them unfair to our ‘superior’ understanding of the world, but Brits are good at saying “but this is our country!” when a foreigner falls foul of the law.)

Perhaps Suarez and Liverpool should have admitted to the guilt of cultural ignorance at the start. An apology for the misunderstanding may have helped defuse the situation, although even the report is not full of every last fact and detail, so it’s hard to second-guess Liverpool FC’s full reasoning. One can only assume that the club wanted to help Suarez defend his honour, and feel that vital things were missed.

Unfortunately, and perhaps outrageously given the seriousness of the charge, even though Suarez was only found guilty on the balance of probabilities – which, by its definition, suggests that there’s a good chance (up to 49%) that even those finding him guilty could concede that he is innocent – he could not appeal the guilty verdict; just the length of the ban. What kind of system allows for no appeal on a verdict, apart from witch trials where drowning is involved?

And appeal the length of a ban to the FA, and they’re likely to accuse you of being ‘frivolous’, even though they’ll take advantage of Uefa laws that don’t work in the same way.

(The FA had a right to appeal Wayne Rooney’s ban, but what does it say for their policy of a decision being final? Just because Uefa allow it, it still undermines the notion of one decision being the end to the matter.)

Liverpool, and Suarez, were not in a position to appeal, due to the nature of the beast; and therefore the player was seen as ‘admitting’ to the charges, rather than simply seeing no way to overturn them.

Had it been Glen Johnson who was on the receiving end of the same wording from Javier Hernandez, for example, I’d probably be outraged in the manner that a lot of United fans and neutrals are over Suarez (although neutrals can still hate other clubs, and other clubs’ players). But my outrage wouldn’t make me right, in terms of knowing what actually happened.

(A note: Johnson, who should know more than almost anyone else, stands by Suarez. People keep using him as an example of someone who should have been appalled at Suarez’s behaviour, or using him as an example of how Liverpool fans would feel if the shoe was on the other foot. But his support of Suarez is being glossed over.)

As a fan of fairness and justice – I follow true crime issues obsessively – I’d also hope that any accused was not universally condemned and vitriolically vilified merely because he or she was ‘probably’ guilty. I’d expect such serious charges to come with a criteria of ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’. This is not a case of whether or not a player meant to injure an opponent, which does not carry the same stigma.

Like other Liverpool fans, I don’t want to be seen to defending a ‘racist’. We would not support someone who admitted to, or was caught on tape, being racist. (As an aside, I posted this first in TTT’s debate section, to check that the site’s multicultural readership was behind publication. Subscribers of all races felt that it should indeed be made public.)

However, like most other Liverpool fans who have closely followed the whole sorry saga, I am yet to see the evidence in a case where there was no smoking gun; no forensic evidence; no independent witnesses (or indeed witnesses beyond those given second-hand information); and no conclusive video footage, beyond showing that an argument taking place (which we already knew).

Just stories, possibly told by truthful folks, possibly told by liars, or possibly told by those with all-too-common cases of unreliable memory.

To conclude: to me, it’s clearly probable that Luis Suarez did not say the word ‘negro’ (neg-gro) more than once, and that no ill meaning was intended. It’s probable, because he admitted to a single use of the word, when he could have denied it and gotten away with it. It’s probable, because he himself is from a black background, and – logically, at least – that makes it less likely, if not impossible, that he’d be racially offensive.

His innocence is probable, because no-one heard what he is alleged to have said, and no recording device, visual or audio, picked it up – and the chances of that happening, while not impossible, are less likely than if it was definitely said. (Some of the things you do might not get captured by a dozen cameras; but none of the things you don’t do can end up on tape.)

If it was any friend or relation of yours who was found guilty of a charge based on the balance of probabilities, and it was splashed all over the papers in the most damming manner, I’d expect you’d want better, too. Let’s kick racism out of the game, and out of society – but let’s have standards of evidence, so that the innocent, or misunderstood, aren’t caught in the crossfire.