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Biting in Sports: How the Law Can Bite Back

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

Unless your sport is competitive eating, there's no biting in sports. It's not just the rules, the law really frowns upon using your teeth against your fellow player.

Americans who were stunned by Uruguayan footballer Luis Suarez's shoulder-chomping action at the World Cup should remember that we've hosted our own notoriously "toothy" athletes (cough Mike Tyson cough). And these biters learned the legal implications of taking a bite out of an opponent.

So how can the law "bite back" against sports biters?

Criminal Charges

Mike Tyson, despite going down in history for biting off part of opposing boxer Evander Holyfield's ear, actually served no jail time. The fighter did serve several years in prison for a rape conviction, but surprisingly, he was never convicted of any crime for assaulting Holyfield.

Assuming that Tyson is the exception and not the rule, those who bite off chunks of someone's flesh -- inside or outside the ring -- can be charged with assault. In most states, aggravated or enhanced assault charges can be added when the attack served to maim or disfigure the victim (e.g., biting off an ear).

In addition to jail or prison time for intentionally biting someone during a sports match, you may also be held responsible by a criminal court for your "meal's" medical bills. And criminal restitution is far more serious than any red card.

Civil Battery Charges

Even if a player isn't charged criminally, he or she can still be sued for any biting injuries. Any civil recovery would come under a theory of battery, alleging that the defendant's bite was an unconsented touch that caused damages.

Damages from a human bite can be serious. According to Medline Plus, human bites may be more dangerous than animal bites, leading to hard-to-treat infections and injuries to tendons and joints. These wounds may require substantial hospital time, meaning massive medical costs -- which will be the legal responsibility of the biter.

If a bite happens to affect a player's career, he or she may also be entitled to economic damages. So if Portugal's famously handsome Cristiano Ronaldo was bitten on the face, costing him a Dolce & Gabbana modeling contract, then the hungry hangry player would end up owing a boatload.

No matter how toothsome an opposing player might be, those who bite in sports may end up legally biting off more than they can chew.

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