I'm not a defender of everything Ndamukong Suh does, but I do believe some heat the Detroit Lions' defensive tackle has taken nationally is unjustified. The media has grabbed a collection of incidents and turned Suh from a football player into a serial killer who happens to wear pads and a helmet. There's only one way he can finally shed this image, and it's by playing under control on the field at all times while changing his cold demeanor off it.
Just like last year, Suh was involved in a controversial incident on the field with his foot. This time, he kicked Matt Schaub in the family jewels while falling backwards after rushing the quarterback. This play was more innocent looking than Suh's stop of Evan Dietrich-Smith last year, but no less incriminating in the minds of many who believe Suh to be a rogue who's constantly out to hurt people. Is he a dirty player? Yes. Tough? Sure. But, is Suh deliberately out to maim fellow players? I still refuse to believe that. Who actually is?
Last season's stomp was stupid and intentional. Suh's suspension was justified. This kick is much more hazy, however. In the interest of playing devils advocate, imagine the coordination needed to intentionally kick someone's midsection while falling over. Suh's a gifted athlete so anything is possible, but nobody has any way of knowing what he was thinking, how his body was moving or what momentum was doing to his leg at the time of impact. He was barely turned toward Schaub in the moment. Though it looks terrible, there's still a good chance this kick was simply an ugly mistake.
I don't believe Suh hates his fellow man enough to play purely to injure. However, with the stereotypes the media has now created for Suh partially with his own help, he can no longer risk playing out of control or doing anything. The line between being tough and looking foolish has been drawn. The benefit of the doubt will no longer favor Suh within league offices or in the court of public opinion. Now, no matter what happens, he's guilty before proven innocent. Those who stand up for him will be called blind defenders, or in legal parlance, accessories to murder. It's unfair, but in life, often times we dig our own holes.
Suh must begin to dig himself out right now. It doesn't mean he can't play aggressive or have a high motor. Instead, it means he can't be out of control on the field with regard to his extremities. He must try his best to avoid hitting heads of players and having his feet come in contact with their legs or bodies. Basically, it's form tackling or bust from now on, other than attempting to strip a football. Will it hurt Suh's superhuman image of being the only 300 pound guy who can body slam a quarterback while chasing down a gazelle? Sure, but that's not how he needs to play in the NFL, anyway.
Media-wise, Suh must become a kinder citizen, apologizing for anything that happens quickly and quietly. He should enlist the help of a decent public relations firm to assist him with interviews and statements, and work on his surly image. It's fine to play tough, but blowing off reporters and giving shortened interviews isn't going to win many friends or influence people. Suh doesn't have to be football's version of Sean Casey, but if he were to be less of a verbal recluse and warmer, it would be much harder for many people to simply detest him.
If Suh cannot figure it out, the Lions might have no choice but to send him packing. This franchise, once irrelevant, can't simply afford to settle for bad press just for the sake of having it. Like it or not, with every questionable incident, people not only think less of Suh, they think less of his team and the city of Detroit. That's not the way to help a struggling franchise turn the corner.
With another possible suspension or fine looming, justified or not, it's time for Suh to grow up and make some big changes. If not, he'll continue to feel the heat regardless of what he does on the field or off, innocent or guilty.
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