Manchester United centre-back Jonny Evans and Newcastle United striker Papiss Cisse engaged in a repulsive spitting duel in their respective clubs' Premier League clash on Wednesday.
To his credit, Cisse hastily announced his remorse and humbly apologised for his involvement:
Evans, despite video evidence suggesting differently, has dismissed the notion he intended to spit on Cisse:
Believability after well-crafted and presumed legally aided declarations is up to one's own personal loyalties and sensibilities, but what cannot be dismissed is the two players appeared to have spat at each other.
The Football Association charged the pair, and they are expected to be banned. The Newcastle attacker accepted his charge and will likely be out of action until May 9. The Manchester United defender, via his statement, is anticipated to contest his charge, leaving his immediate future in doubt.
Football is not without blemishes; even contextual actions can sometimes be considered reckless endangerment. With merciless tackles, however, intent is problematic to assess—whereas spitting and biting are clearly malicious decisions.
Wednesday's occurrence has sparked dialogue over which action is the most despicable on a football pitch. There are some appalling choices in the word bank from which to choose, but the main contenders are spitting, biting and diving.
To jettison one choice easily, diving is simply a part of football. The action is done in an attempt to help one's team and win matches. Though it can be done without morals or remorse, diving is devoid of intent to harm or disparage—the worst that can happen is a yellow card.
It is gamesmanship, the same as feigning injury or time wasting. Are they on the list of things we would love to abolish from football? Certainly, but these are not denigrating your opponent's humanity in the process.
Intimate with spitting is biting. The purpose of biting is to harm, has no place in football and can only be classed as disgusting.
What makes it possibly less heinous than spitting is the mental process. Biting is an animalistic, primal reaction to frustration. Humans should be better at controlling this base reaction—and to be fair, only one prominent footballer seems to have these demons—but when compared to spitting, biting falls just short in terms of reprehensible actions because spitting jumps through more cognitive hoops.
Science suggests excess saliva is a compulsory, biological function of running in cold environments (e.g. England in the winter), where the body—especially during exertion—labours to keep air warm before it enters the lungs; this process works like a humidifier, creating saliva as a result.
It somewhat explains why an observer can witness one of the 22 players on the pitch spitting toward the ground at nearly every dead ball or television close up. It would appear simply because football is played outdoors and on grass, a licence to spit is granted, but it seems fair to argue that this could be quelled through self-discipline.
While perplexing on certain levels, the how and why of spit carries little weight in football; the where habitually goes unobserved as well—until incidents like what ensued at St James' Park transpire.
To spit at someone—rather than projecting your spittle to readily available blades of grass—shows not only a primal behavioural pattern but an utter disregard for your victim as a person; in many circles this form of disrespect is far greater than biting.
Although this discussion has transformed into "one of the worst things in football," short of physical bodily harm, spitting on another human being is derogatory in every facet of life—the logic stretches far beyond football pitches.
Society should deal strongly with those who choose to spew their saliva on others—the setting is inconsequential, the time is unimportant and the participants likewise.
So while England's FA has been less than judicious with several major decisions this season, its swift response to Wednesday's egregious display is commendable.
Onlookers would love to imagine this situation was a misunderstanding between two normally level-headed individuals. Evans spat to the ground, Cisse thought the centre-back was spitting at him and retaliated in kind. That is our wish, but it certainly seems both footballers should have been smarter in their actions.
When you witness grown men (who, it must be said, earn thousands of pounds every week) acting like repulsive four-year-old schoolboys, it reflects poorly not only on the particulars, their clubs and English football, but our society as a collective.