The sports biters who literally drew blood – and can they ever be stopped?

The Rio Report

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Suarez and Tyson: Biters of the world Unite

The raw temperament that makes some sports stars fly off the handle can also be what makes them so talented – but can the tantrums of a genius ever be tamed?

And if they could, would you even want to do so?

The World Cup offers players two or three opportunities at best to perform on the global stage and each time they carry the pressure of the hopes of a nation on their shoulders.

It is no wonder, then, that it often creates crazy moments like the Luis Suarez biting incident.

Suarez now has a hat trick of bites but he's not the only one: England forward Jermain Defoe actually bit Javier Mascherano in the shoulder back way in 2006, and teeth gnashing has been prevalent throughout sport.

In the 1970s, baseball’s Pedro ‘Dominican Dracula’ Borbon drew blood and his victim had to get a tetanus shot. In rugby, South African Johan Le Roux bit All Black Sean Fitzpatrick’s ear and England’s Dylan Hartley bit Ireland’s Steven Ferris’s finger. Boxer Mike Tyson bit off an entire chunk of Evander Holyfield’s ear.

Tyson, incidentally, spoke just yesterday about how he understood how Suarez bit Chiellini, saying that, "it's just the heat of the moment, really hot blooded and really competitive."

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But the pressure on footballers can also explode in many other ways.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has head butted team-mates and 'stamped' on rivals’ heads; Mario Balotelli grappled with boss Roberto Mancini at Man City; El Hadji Diouf spat at fans: Roy Keane broke Alf Inge Haaland’s leg: Eric Cantona karate-kicked a fan; and Zinedine Zidane head butted Marco Materazzi in a World Cup Final.

Even tennis and golf deliver spectacular meltdowns, Mikhail Youzhny drawing blood smashing himself with a racquet, and golfer Woody Austin bent a club by repeatedly hitting it on his own head.

That’s nothing compared to NBA, which has seen Kermit Washington inflict life-threatening injuries on a rival with a face punch, Dennis Rodman headbutt a referee, Ron Artest trample a broadcaster and Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton draw guns on each other.

The single moment when an athlete can no longer absorb the criticism and pressure can be spectacular. But why does it happen?

In an analysis of his management by Harvard Business School, Sir Alex Ferguson claimed players these days “have lived more sheltered lives so are much more fragile than 25 years ago.”

Psychological analysis throws up numerous reasons for on-pitch meltdowns, from childhood traumas to personal paranoia from a lack of control and over-inflated importance

In most cases, it starts with baiting. Suarez claims Chiellini provoked him, much like he had previously with Ibrahimovic, who “grabbed his head and dragged him along like a disobedient dog” in response during a match in Italy.

Former Arsenal player Emmanuel Adebayour, who was barraged with abuse on his return, claims it is a natural reaction and explained: “If you were to abuse a man in the street for over an hour he would react."

It is quite possible that Suarez, on his return from injury, feared not being on top form. Unlike at Liverpool, where manager Brendan Rogers built a team mentality, the media storm around his comeback for Uruguay put him on a pedestal. And when that pressure combined with things going wrong it was only going to go one way.

In some cases, however, it is more than just emotion.

NFL star Brandon Marshall head-butted his Miami Dolphins team-mate in training in 2010 and a year later said before one game that his aim was to “get thrown out by the second quarter”.

Then he revealed he had borderline personality disorder, a mental illness that causes wild fluctuations between glorification and criticism and results in emotional outbursts and impulse actions.

Now, the NFL has a 24/7 hotline to help players through crises and runs an ambassador program with ex-players for counselling.

In all cases, it’s about understanding the triggers and two years ago Liverpool hired psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters – who had worked with bad boys Craig Bellamy and Ronnie O’Sullivan - to do just that.

He follows the ‘Chimp Paradox’ that says the brain has rational ‘human’ and illogical ‘chimp’ parts and the latter causes irrational reactions.

His work appeared to be doing good on Suarez, and perhaps without him there in Brazil, the support he needed was missing.

However, there is an argument that this kind of player is actually best kept right on the edge.

In his autobiography, Ferguson said: "One of my players will do something (bad) if he gets the chance – even in training. Can I take it out of him? No. Would I want to take it out of him? No.

“If you take the aggression out, he is not himself. So you have to accept there is a certain flaw that is counterbalanced by all the great things he can do."

- Will Gray

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