Suarez guilty of making racist comments
Suarez has been found guilty of making racist comments against Patrice Evra in a recent match between Liverpool and Manchester United. He has been handed a hefty 8 match ban and a £40,000 fine. The story is covered in full in many places including this BBC report.
What will now happen will be the playing out of several conflict dynamics which are worth exploring.
The Liverpool Defence
Consider the Liverpool football club statement in defence of their player.
“Liverpool is surprised and disappointed…” is an entirely conventional opening. It suggests that the FA decision is unreasonable, that it has not reached the standards that are to be expected of them.
This is a classic lawyer’s opening gambit. Lawyers never cease to be “Surprised and disappointed” within opening paragraphs!
It gets worse quickly. The finding against their man escalates from merely surprising and quickly becomes “Extraordinary.” Note the inflated language being used.
There follow a couple of paragraphs extolling Liverpool’s own anti-racism credentials, lest there be any doubt, before we see an attack on the credibility of the (seemingly vindicated) accuser…
“It is also our opinion that the accusation by this particular player was not credible – certainly no more credible than his prior unfounded accusations.”
“Some of my best friends…”
We then have the “Some of my best friends” defence proclaiming Suarez’s own mixed race background and involvement in mixed race teams in the past and present. This is non-sensical and is no defence or justification. It never is.
“It seems incredible to us that a player of mixed heritage should be accused and found guilty in the way he has based on the evidence presented.” Note the “Incredible” as in beyond credibility. Note how the statement offers up an invitation to the reader or listener to adopt a position. Will you side with us on the side of the reasonable and credible, or with the surprising, the disappointing, the non-ordinary (read strange) and the incredible?
Oh, and that best friends defence? It really is there.
“He has played with black players and mixed with their families whilst with the Uruguay national side and was captain at Ajax Amsterdam of a team with a proud multi-cultural profile, many of whom became good friends.”
“I do not recognise the authority of this court”
There is then the dismissal of the FA’s authority.
It starts off fairly nuanced.
“We do not recognise the way in which Luis Suarez has been characterised.” This finding has no bearing on our own subjective understanding is what they mean to say. It is almost as if they are saying “They are not talking about our man. They must have the wrong guy. It’s not us” This promotion of subjective perception, or even what they would like to believe, this promotion from subjective to some kind of objective truth is very often seen within conflict.
And then we have the real killer and how this comment made it into the press release I have no idea. It comes across to me as petulant, sulky, child-like in transactional analysis terms. Brace yourselves. It’s remarkable;
“It appears to us that the FA were determined to bring charges against Luis Suarez, even before interviewing him at the beginning of November.”
This rejection of the validity of a tribunal’s authority is frequently seen. Saddam Hussein tried it. An anecdote comes to mind of one defendant in a trial who upon receiving a fine from the Judge proclaimed that he did not recognise the court’s authority. The response from the Judge was “Well, this court recognises you…” and promptly doubled the fine. (Note: Possibly apocryphal)
Meet the attribution theory
Attribution theory has two parts.
When we are in conflict we attribute the actions of others against alleged innate characteristics that the other person, or body, possess. The characteristic here is that of bias, a determination to scapegoat and villify, implicit unfairness and an inability to form an empirical view. They are conspiracists seemingly playing out some mysterious agenda. They clearly cannot be trusted.
Secondly, when we are in conflict we attribute our own actions not to fallible and undesirable characterisitcs but to being the product of circumstances we find ourselves in.
The final paragraph is also ugly. We now see a classic “Counter-attack” as discussed in my book “Conversational Riffs; Creating Meaning Out Of Conflict” in Liverpool calling upon the FA to also prosecute Evra.
The Pundits’ Commentary
The commentary is going to whirl around the Drama triangle. The drama triangle has three positions upon it
- The victim
- The villain
- The rescuer
Consider who is the villain of this piece?
Is it Suarez, for the comments he has been found to have made?
Is it the FA for imposing such a hefty punishment, and of course Liverpool FC’s strong allegations against them as agenda holding conspiracists?
Or is it Patrice Evra even with allegations of “Prior unfounded comments.”
Who is the victim? Evra or Suarez (“A very difficult day for me and my family”)? The Liverpool supporters and club?
And who is the rescuer? The FA? And if they were did they slip over into villain by the severity of their punishment?
Is the author of the Liverpool statement now trying to intervene, to rescue the situation? Will Evra himself speak out on the matter?
All in all, this is a fascinating display of conflict dynamics.
I have no interest in either team, whether any appeal is successful or whether this current finding against Suarez is upheld. The point of this article is only to flag up discernable and often repeated patterns of conflict behaviour.
How well do these patterns serve us?
What other response might the various protagonists have made?
Neil Denny is an author and presenter on conflict management and collaboration. He speaks to public and private sector organisations across the UK and North America.