Oh, how the mighty have fallen.....
Ndamukong Suh's fall from grace has been an unpleasant one to watch both for Lions fans and the rest of the league. This man who wanted to portray himself as a kind, intellectual and gentle giant has now been exposed for the dirty, violent and vicious player and person that he is.
Or has he?
Full disclosure: I am a former writer for Windy City Gridiron and FireJerryAngelo.com as well as a current paid featured columnist for the Chicago Bears wing of Bleacher Report. I want to be open and honest from the beginning of this post in regards to which side my bread is buttered on.
My initial reaction to Suh's actions on Thanksgiving Day were complete and total condemnation. I stand by that today, as well.
However, while I think his actions were well outside of the bounds of acceptable football in the 2010's, I also believe that those who are assassinating the man's character over a single mistake made in the heat of the moment are committing just as heinous an act.
Before the many out there who have done exactly that attack me for minimizing his actions, let me be the first to agree with you. I am minimizing his acts in some ways.
Don't get me wrong, what he did was uncalled for and completely against the rules. It was also well beyond the tweakings you expect to happen between offensive and defensive linemen in between plays in this generation of players.
But there are a couple of things that stood out to me as hypocritical:
First and foremost is that there is nothing Ndamukong Suh did that didn't happen on a regular basis in the league during previous eras without any more punitive action than a flag. We cheer past greats like Ray Nitschke, Alex Karras,Dick Butkus, Bill George, Joe Green, Joe Schmidt, Lyle Alzado, Bill Romanowski, Dick Lane, Jack Lambert, Chuck Badnerik, Jack Tatum, Ted Hendricks and Lawrence Taylor and praise their monstrous actions with pride. Yet these players were far more vicious than today's "dirty" players. They were more brutal, barbaric and far more intent on hurting people.
Take some time to watch the "America's Game" series on the '85 Bears (pops) and listen to what some of the players from great defensive teams like the Raiders, Steelers, Giants and Bears had to say about trying to hurt opponents. These players were often considered "dirty" then. Mike Singletary's commentary on his teammates and their brutal distruction of quarterbacks is a perfect illustration of my point. They stomped on opponents, bit, punched, grabbed genitalia, poked eyes and so much more. But we cheer their memory and revel in film of their play and at lists and rankings that place them at or near the top of league history.
This is a different era, I get it. I also get that the same people decrying Suh as a person are many of the same people who complain to no end about rule changes to protect quarterbacks and heap the praises on Dick Butkus and Alex Karras. Players on modern teams get hammered about the tradition of the league, but when they play like traditional players, they are called "dirty" all while the league pumps the media cloud with footage of the brutal greats destroying each other for our viewing pleasure. Talk about a bunch of hypocrites.
Again, I don't condone Suh's post play actions. But I think they are a bit overblown. And I think the call for a three or more game suspension is ridiculous. Here's why:
It will be nearly impossible for anyone to convince me that Suh intended on hurting Dietrich-Smith. I find it hard to believe that if Ndamukong was intent on hurting a downed linemen with a kick, he wouldn't have been brutally effective at doing just that. Watching the film, he looks far more out of control bashing Dietrich-Smith's helmet into the ground, and it looked to me like the kick was really more of a posturing move meant to achieve mental effects, not physical ones. But that is my own speculation...
But aside from that, is this any more brutal or violent than Charles martin's premeditated hit-job on Jim McMahon that resulted in the league's first multiple game suspension? Martin injured McMahon in full view of the referee around three seconds after McMahon threw an interception. Take a look at the film in this link (pops).
McMahon was never the same after this play. Making matters worse, Martin was wearing a hit-list on his towel for players he intended to hurt that included McMahon and Walter Payton. Though criminal charges should have been filed, Martin received just a two-game suspension—at the time the largest suspension ever handed out—for his premeditated assault on the Punky QB.
Suh's actions were in the heat of the moment. They were not premeditated. They resulted in no injury. Do they really deserve a more intense punishment than Martin's actions?
Some will argue that there is a principle here. What Suh did was "dirty." But if setting an example is the purpose, then why wasn't Minnesota's Brian Robison suspended for this intentional, dirty and unacceptable kick to Green Bay's TJ Lang's groin? Again, check out the tape in this link (and again, pops)
If the league was trying to make an example of dirty conduct that could potentially lead to injury, isn't that the perfect opportunity? But the league simply fined Robison $20K and let him go on his merry way. Is what Suh did more dirty? Meanwhile, the media let this story slip away after the fine was handed out. You don't hear about it when you see Robison and the Vikings on the field. Robison hasn't been branded dirty. On all the blogs I frequent, you see no mention of it when the Vikings come to town. Yet it was a despicable and cowardly act. Is this not hypocrisy?
I have one final thought I'd like to hit on here in defense of Suh. Ndamukong has a history of "dirty" play. As a Bears fan, I'm well aware of that history. I also feel it's overblown. A perfect example of this is his fined and flagged blow to the back of Jay Cutler's head (try this link. It pops). It was neither a blow to the head nor was it illegal. Cutler was beyond the line of scrimmage and Suh extended his hands it a push. It was a bad call and a worse fine. I understand the league's desire and even need to protect quarterbacks, but not to the detriment of the game. Is Suh overaggressive? Maybe. But is it dirty? No. He's gone further against guys like Jake Delhomme and Andy Dalton, but I wouldn't call this plays dirty. I'd call them aggressive and his coaches, teammates and fans generally applaud that kind of play.
Things like this with Suh, James Harrison and the like have turned players who would have been considered fearsome and great 20 years ago into "dirty" players today. Watch film of Mike Singletary, John Randle, Lawrence Taylor, Ronnie Lott, Reggie White or Richard Dent. These are the greats of the recent past. But they would all be considered "dirty" and been heavily fined by today's standards. And there is seldom a game where you don't hear the announces speculate that at least one hit won't get a fine from the league office.
I don't see Suh as a dirty player. I am by no means a Lions fan. But I will not allow my bias against a team to cloud my better judgement. This incident is not a reaffirmation of earlier incidents that shed a dark shadow on Suh's character. Those "earlier incidents" are unfortunate media babblings brought about by a hypocritical and over-sensitive NFL front office that talks out of both sides of their mouthed, fining players large sums for vague infractions and trying to take the violence out of a violent sport all while simultaneously glorifying the league's brutal past. This is Suh's first real incident.
The media loves to tout their "poll" that indicated players voted Suh the dirtiest player in the game. I placed "poll" in quotes because this is not a scientific poll. It posed the question of who the dirtiest player int he NFL was to 111 NFL players, but didn't record the number of players voting who have actual one-on-one experience with the players they voted against, meaning that the poll is ripe for judgement bias based on here-say and media coverage.
Ndamukong Suh doesn't deserve respect or excuses made for him for his actions, and that isn't what the point of this piece is. What he did was wrong and he knew it. But this is a man who has done an awful lot of good for himself and for others, and who life inside and outside of football shouldn't be judged by one moments indiscretion.
If he makes this kind of mistake in the future, then there might be a pattern. But I seriously caution against branding a man based on a single incident.
Suh should be punished. A $25K fine and a one-game suspension seem fair for his actions, based on both his violations and on past punitive actions. Remember, before slamming this as too light, that no suspension for on-field actions in league history has ever surpassed one game without injury involved.
A permanent branding of the man and his character should not be part of his punishment. He is not Albert Haynesworth, nor is he Charles Martin. He is Ndamukong Suh. He made one mistake. He will be punished for that one mistake. He should remember how making that mistake felt and how it affected his team. But he should not carry an eternal burden for a infraction that resulted in no injury or premeditation. And fans of the Lions or the NFL should look at the entirety of the man, not one incident.
I am taking a stand against just that. I invite all of you to consider these things as well as those factors I may not have touched on and make up your own minds. But rather than just blindly following the media and the masses on this issue—or me, for that matter—I encourage you to take time to consider all the facts, not just those that cast the man in a shadow.
I encourage you to make up your own minds and not allow the talking heads to do that for you.