As this article describes professional soccer player Luis Suarez recently completed a 4-month ban from the sport as punishment for his third biting offense. You read that correctly. He’s been punished for literally biting an opponent during a match… three different times!
This is a bizarre scenario. However I appreciated how the author focused less on Suarez and more on the interventions we use with professional athletes. The author states that “You would expect FIFA to say as part of the ban you have to do ‘x’ amount of counseling. Adding the counseling bit did not take place.”
It almost never does.
World football lacks both a formal system of preventative measures to avoid infractions and a consistent aftercare program for suspended players.
This, despite the proliferation of cameras (on and off the pitch) and the hazards of social media that have players sitting out for a wider range of offenses than ever before.
Those who are exiled from their clubs, as the initial terms of Suarez’s ban stated, are especially fragile.
What is an employer’s obligation to their employee when they’re dealing with an issue for which counseling would be an effective intervention? Do the obligations change based upon the employee’s salary or celebrity status?
Athletes are a unique group of professionals. Many of them have had the privilege of systems bending to accommodate them based on their skill set . Additionally, they are often presented with a sudden and tremendous amount of wealth. This combination of experiences can be substantial barriers to service for this group. I’m sure the owner of any sports franchise would espouse how the health of their athletes is their top priority. If this is true then we need to change the way support athletes, and any employees, who need counseling. Banning them from their support networks is often counterproductive.
Maybe every professional franchise should establish a role for a social worker to align appropriate interventions for their players? If this ever happens I’m calling “dibbs” on The Cleveland Browns.