"This is a football World Cup, not about morality, cheap morality." -- Óscar Tabárez, Uruguayan National Soccer Team Coach
When the striker from Uruguay's team, Luis Suárez, dropped his head into Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini's shoulder and bit him (as shown repeatedly in instant replay and via bite marks on Chiellini's shoulder), the world was shocked... kind of -- this wasn't the first time we've see Suárez behave this way.
FIFA, the governing body for World Cup soccer, is reviewing Suárez's actions and likely will issue a suspension for this outrageous assault.
But the real question is what should or what ought Uruguay do?
The question isn't about the cultural morality of FIFA -- what the current rules of play or the moral code in world soccer are. Rather the question is about how we should behave -- what should a country do when its star player commits an assault and the coach defends it, making him complicit in the behavior?
Suárez had bitten opponents twice before on the pitch: once while playing for the Netherland's Ajax club and again in the Premier League at Liverpool, where he plays professionally.
A third bite during World Club -- on soccer's biggest global stage while representing Uruguay -- is about much more than FIFA's rules and responsibilities.
Not only is it an assault on the field while representing your country in global competition, it's just... weird.
No player or team signs up to be assaulted during the World Cup.
How should a team and country manage themselves, regardless of the rules of play?
Why do we have global friendly matches?
How does a team win, lose or draw honorably?
Óscar Tabárez, Uruguay's coach and official team leader, should have issued his own red card to Suárez regardless of what the referee did or did not do.
Biting is unacceptable behavior -- period -- regardless of FIFA's ability to "manage" it on or off the field. As a coach, I would have pulled any player from the field as soon as I became aware of biting, as Tabárez had to be. Suárez is, after all, a repeat offender.
But not only did Tabárez NOT pull Suárez, the coach's response instead has been to criticize the collective moral outrage from sports commentators, fellow athletes, and fans around the world as they recoiled in disgust at the serial biting behavior.
Now it comes to this: Uruguay won against Italy and has a maximum of four more games to play in the World Cup. So:
Is there a way for Uruguay to continue on a global stage without owning the assault and making amends?
Can Uruguay continue without first apologizing and then removing the player as well as the coach who continues defend such behavior?
Can you be complicit to assault in global, friendly competition and maintain honor and a good reputation going forward?
Regardless of what FIFA chooses to do or not do (and FIFA has its own systemic moral problems at the moment), José Mujica, the president of Uruguay, should step in now.
Mujica is a man who lives his values.
During the turbulent 1960s and 70s, he fought for the poor of Uruguay as a guerilla. After being shot and imprisoned, he has led Uruguay in various roles including cabinet minister and senator until becoming the president in 2010. Mujica donates 90 percent of his monthly income to the poor and lives in austerity personally.
It is time for the president to step in and save his country's global reputation.
The only way to respond to an ethical lapse is to own it. Admit it, apologize for it, take action so that the behavior cannot continue, make amends it as best you can, and ask the offended party for forgiveness.
By immediately owning the problem -- apologizing for both the Suárez biting incident and for Tabárez's inability to take responsibility for his player's behavior during the game and off the field -- Mujica not only could restore but actually improve Uruguay's global reputation, which is much more important than any soccer game or trophy.
Mujica should pull Suárez before FIFA issues its ruling on the incident and lead the change. Mujica should also pull Tabárez and the rest of the team home to Uruguay before Italy leaves Brasil and let FIFA decide what to do next.
The essential matter at this point isn't what rights the Uruguay team and players have. Instead it is a question about how humans ought to treat each other and interact in friendly competition.
Is winning a soccer match more important than assault? Are the results of a game -- the cash and potential trophy -- worth more than a country's honor, not just among players, but in the world?
In many ways, Mujica is a modern-day Gandhi. How he trades his income for the nobility of humanity, to help move individuals and our collective culture forward, is a simple example of living his beliefs.
Removing his team to demonstrate that Uruguay will not be an accomplice to Suárez's assaultive behavior would set an example for FIFA and the world of how we all ought to behave on the global stage.