Sid Lowe and Luis Suarez: don’t shoot the messenger

Sid Lowe is one of Some Goals’ favourite writers. His Suarez interview should be viewed as misguided rather than malicious.

The Luis Suarez racism debacle rolls on. Respected journalist, and La Liga correspondent, Sid Lowe took to Twitter to engage and answer a deluge of damning criticism over his interview with Suarez published this morning by The Guardian. The controversy grew from a small section of the piece that sought to briefly reference the Uruguayan’s on-field abuse of Manchester United’s Patrice Evra. Unfortunately, the popular writer stumbled upon two contentious and rather misleading points that could be read as a doubting of the intent of the Liverpool player’s actions and his guilty verdict.

Lowe’s initial response was understandably reactive, challenging his challengers over their potential bias and the sad state of affairs in which important issues quickly become divided over club allegiances rather than reason and the matter of what’s right. These exchanges quickly grew far more insightful and engaging however and the ensuing debate was positive, productive and civilised – a refreshing change to the usual flame wars and abuse spewed over the social network. It was clear that the writer, whose work is regular featured in the very best football publications and sites around, had no intention to defend the actions of Suarez or question the verdict. Instead, he had sought, through his interview, to cover the player’s background, personality and hyper-competitive nature to explain rather than excuse the incident and its fall out.

Check out Sid Lowe’s Twitter feed here to read the writer’s exchanges with his critics.

My problem with Lowe’s handling of the affair in his piece was that it could have been referenced without throwing potential doubts over the issue. The phrasing of his words unfortunately offers opportunity and a cut-and-paste vindication for the scouse lunatic fringe who hardly need any fresh encouragement to push the agenda against Evra and Suarez verdict anew. He also mentioned that no solid lip reading evidence could be placed against Suarez, although this was due to the lack of clear camera angles and is ultimately irrelevant since the player admitted to saying the words himself when interviewed anyway.

For what its worth, at no point during or after the event did I think that Luis Suarez was a racist, but rather that the Uruguayan was overly competitive in a ruthless and reckless manner. This is a feature of his play on the pitch – he’ll fight and tussle for every single inch of the match and bead of sweat from his brow – but it doesn’t excuse his racial opportunism to try and gain an edge over Evra.

Suarez’s excuse, that he’d said negrito, negro or a similar Latin slang derivative, in a conciliatory way – a claim supposedly backed up by the benign meanings of such terms back in South America – was always ridiculous. Throughout the offending fixture last October, both players were at each other’s throats well before Suarez skin colour referencing outburst – snarling and barging into each other and generally behaving aggressively and confrontational. Are we still expected to believe that in such a combative atmosphere, Suarez turned to the Frenchman and used a Uruguayan colloquialism in a friendly, mollifying way?

As I said above, to me, Suarez is a player whose intensity and genius skirts at the very edges of the game’s competitive and ethical edge. With Evra he over stepped the mark. Regardless of social norms in Uruguay, in the UK, is it ever advisable, let alone acceptable, to reference someone’s skin? Especially someone who is a non-acquaintance and adversary?

Sid Lowe is guilty only of implicitly mentioning Suarez’s beyond-the-pale and on-the-pitch hyper-competitive nature rather than explicitly linking it to his racial outburst. This naivety in unintentionally giving Suarez’s side of the argument some unnecessary wiggle room can be put down to a courtesy between interviewer to interviewee to preface the issue on his terms rather than a sign that Sid is a member of the worryingly unhinged minority of Liverpool FC’s fanbase.

Although the Evra-Suarez reference is unfortunate, the rest of Lowe’s interview is well worth a read. Click here to head over to The Guardian now to hear Suarez’s take on his background, opinion on Rodger’s coaching methods and English football in general.

For a more extensive and forensic overview of the FA report, evidence and context of the Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra incident and its fall out, read The Ministry Of Truth.

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9 thoughts on “Sid Lowe and Luis Suarez: don’t shoot the messenger

  1. I live in Uruguay, of Korean & Basque ancestry, and I am very likely to hear someone call me “negro” every week, even by African-Uruguayans. It *does* mean mate, *and* it can also be used in a derogatory/racist way (depends on context). It’s also the word we use for black colour.

    Our biggest football legend, Obdulio Varela, was respectfully nicknamed “El Negro Jefe” (The Black Chief). One of the most popular national singers is El Negro Rada. And so on, and so on…

    You don’t want to believe this, fine. But it is what it is here.

    I do agree his tactical comments were most interesting. Cheers!

    • I don’t want to believe it? I’m not denying that it’s acceptable in Uruguay and can be used in a friendly way to mean “mate”.

      What I take exception to is the idea that Suarez said it in a “matey” way – an idea which is still be floated around by numerous Liverpool supporters. As you say yourself:

      “…it can also be used in a derogatory/racist way (depends on context).”

      Evra and Suarez were already shoulder barging and being extremely confrontational and unpleasant to each other even before the incident had taken place. Are we really supposed to believe that within the context of their heated and nasty exchanges Suarez said the word in a conciliatory way? I don’t buy it.

      As I’ve said, I don’t believe Suarez is a racist, he just opportunistically used what is, in the UK where he now plays his football, racist language. He’s a hyper-competitive and impulsive player on the pitch which leads me to believe he either said it as an outburst of frustration or in order to gain advantage over Evra by winding him up so that he’d lose his focus.

      I understand that the culture in Uruguay is different with regards to racial attitudes, language and referencing skin colour. The issue for me is that Suarez, in my opinion, knowingly used the language in a racist context in order to gain advantage in a football match, not whether Uruguayan cultural norms exist or not.

      Thanks for your comment though Jong-Won Kim. I just wanted to clarify my position further.

  2. I have no doubt of the language used and the place it holds in Uruguayan culture, but as everything, it depends on context. Realistically, any words those two said to each other in that context were going to be aimed at winding the other one up, but as soon as it goes to race or skin colour? Nuh uh. Not okay.

    The fact the word ‘negro’ carries a much worse connotation in the UK than it does in Uruguay to me was always irrelevant, either as an argument for the prosecution or the defence. Yes it was a poor choice of words for Luis as he plays his football in the UK now, but it wasn’t the point.

    Describing a black person as a black person is, in most circumstances, absolutely fine. But if I was in an argument with a black person and I bring their skin colour into it? Nuh uh. Not okay. I might have been perfectly accurate in my description of their colour using words acceptable to my cultural environment, but in that context I would be looking at a pretty hefty slap on the wrist at best.

    Sid’s piece… eh. It provides a nice back story and was an engaging piece otherwise, but sadly there’s just no getting away from the issue with Suarez anymore, and if you give the man himself a chance to use the same explanation we’ve all heard from a hundred different Liverpool fans on twitter, then of course its going to become an LFC vs MUFC thing – even though Sid never states his own opinion on the matter. That “explanation” part of the article could have been handled a lot better, or even excluded entirely, I wouldn’t miss it. Whether it was a condition of him doing the interview at all, I wouldn’t like to guess, but top marks to Sid for engaging with criticism on twitter.

  3. and the dead horse has been flogged…..be careful not to subsume all contexts and cultures under one of your “ideologies,” Greg.

    • Unfortunately, this dead horse can be all too fresh when some try to exonerate Suarez. People need to accept Suarez and Liverpool’s conduct and move on rather than stick to their conspiracy theories.

      I’m confused by your second point however. I think I’ve stated above quite clearly that I understand Suarez’s words will have different meanings within Uruguay along with my belief that he is not a racist, just blindly competitive. Care to elaborate?

      • Ezra Pound was a Nazi but I still like his poems. I feel the same way about Suarez. Warts n’ all.

      • I totally agree. He’s great to watch and an asset to the Premier League when in full flow. It’s what made Sid’s article such a shame for me – I found the footballing bits really interesting!

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