12th Man Report
Victim or culprit?
Published: October 23, 2013
A week ago, on Oct. 16, Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was fined by the NFL … again!
This time it was a $31,500 fine for his hit — although it looked more like a love tap — on Cleveland Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden during the Lions’ 31-17 victory on Oct. 13.
Suh is playing in just his fourth NFL season (he’s appeared in 52 games to be exact) and this is his seventh fine. That’s about one fine per seven-and-a-half games, or two fines a season. That number seems a tad bit high, right? It’s interesting to note, though, that Suh’s hit on Weeden wasn’t even flagged for a penalty during the game.
His largest fine ($100,000) came earlier this year after he threw an illegal block on an interception return. The block appeared a little dirty and unnecessary, but I’m not sure if it was 100,000 bones’ worth of dirtiness. It resulted in a penalty that, in turn, negated a Lions’ touchdown; so unlike the latter fine, it negatively impacted the game.
Some people think that he plays with a reckless abandon and these fines are completely justified. Others think that Suh is a scapegoat for a fine-happy NFL that issues unnecessary and unprecedented fines for commonplace plays. These same people respect Suh’s refusal to soften his style of play just to mitigate a few thousand dollars here and there.
Suh thinks that it’s a response to his fame and ability.
“There’s always going to be a microscope on me, no matter where it is, from outside media, from the NFL to little kids to everybody,” he recently told the Detroit Free Press.
I believe that Suh is a victim: a victim of a soft NFL but also a victim of himself.
First off, the guy has quite the reputation (it’s not for his role as a spokesperson for Omaha Steaks, either). He’s known in the league for being a dirty player: In 2011, he was voted by his peers in the NFL as the leagues “Dirtiest Player” — and it was in a landslide vote.
Mind you, he didn’t help his case after stomping on Even Dietrich-Smith’s leg while on the national stage during the Thanksgiving Day game in 2011; he’s forever since been branded as a dirty player. Fair? No. But labels tend to stick for a reason.
If he’d spent two years of honest, fine-free play, maybe he could’ve shed that label and changed people’s opinion (see James Harrison). Instead, he’s continued to rack up fines for questionable plays, all but reinforcing his status as a dirty player.
Suh might be right that he is fined more often and more readily than most players in the NFL, but that’s like a convicted embezzler being angry when a bank won’t hire him as a teller.
In his defense, the league has a current penalty and fine policy that makes hockey fights look like felonious acts. Sure, it’s all in good faith — such as limiting concussions and player safety — but half the time it seems like a defensive player gets whistled for roughing the passer just for looking at the quarterback the wrong way.
Just look at Suh’s hit on Weeden. Since he’s clearly known among referees as being a bit of a wild card, even if they’re not targeting him for penalties, they definitely flag him more assuredly than say … Charles Woodson.
And let’s say the NFL is just using Suh as a sacrificial lamb just to make a statement about its new rules on player safety. He brought that on himself; he wasn’t chosen based on fame and prowess, but because of his history.
Maybe he isn’t as dirty as he’s perceived to be by refs, fans and players. But in a game like football, perceptions are pretty damn important — victim or not. Suh’s most recent fine was egregious in comparison to the action, but I find it hard it to believe it would’ve went down like it did if his NFL rap sheet wasn’t a mile long.
Michael Laurila writes about sports for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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