In defense of Ndamukong Suh
By ANNIE MOORE
College Contributor Network
Football is a violent game. Every game, every down, grown men slam into each other delivering blows that would stop most of us mere mortals in our tracks. There is always a chance that people playing football will get hurt. And in case you forgot any of that, Ndamukong Suh is here to remind you. But what else would you expect from a man whose name means "House of Spears." Yes it's true, Suh has made a name for himself by being one of the most unapologetic rough-housers in the National Football League, but is that necessarily a bad thing? That's the question facing many NFL executives when this season ends and Suh is a free agent.
Suh's career has always been a delicate balance of disruption and sportsmanship, of praise and criticism. Yes it's hard to believe but true, there is positive media about Suh out there. While it's easy to get caught up in the villian-esque caricature that dominates the narrative these days, there are those in the not-so-vast minority that believe he is an exceptional athlete, well-spoken, a physical power, and yes, a passionate competitor.
The same man that has been voted by his fellow league members as the "Dirtiest Player in the League" twice was also the Associated Press Player of the Year in 2010. That's not his only accolade, far from it. Suh has been to four Pro Bowls in his five seasons in the league, and has been first team All-Pro four seasons. He was the Pepsi Rookie of the Year, AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. He won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the Lombardi Award, was a unanimous All-American, and was nominated for the Heisman Trophy.
That narrative is nowhere to be found these days. Now it is much more convenient to label him a villain, because after all, only villains would step on other players and commit the kind of personal fouls that have trademarked his NFL career (besides the success and accolades, of course). It's much easier for the league and many media members to label him a villain. It's great for ratings, everybody loves to hate the bad guy.
But if he's really that bad, why is he at the beginning of every free agency discussion of late? Why would any team want to sign a player with such a terrible reputation and obviously terrible sportsmanship? Because beyond that vast hyperbole is the truth, the truth that Suh is an asset. Every down he can penetrate offenses and create disruption. In a press conference earlier in the season, Bill Belichick described how an opposing coach views Suh, the player, not the villain.
"That guy can ruin a game," Belichick said. "You have to know where he is on every play. You can't not block him. He's right there in the middle of the defense. So somebody has to block him. He's very disruptive. He's a great football player."
Rave reviews for a player who has also been compared by some to Luis Suarez, the Uruguayan soccer player best known for biting Giorgio Chiellini in Uruguay's World Cup game against Italy this past summer. Suh isn't biting people in the middle of games, but he does escalate plays to the maximum levels of intensity, sometimes to the point of boiling over. Suh himself put this best.
"I just happen to play an aggressive sport," Suh said. "I think it's no different from someone that plays tennis who has to learn how to develop a backhand. As a lineman, you have to learn how to play with your hands. You have to learn how to shut off a blocker. You have to do those things that make you dominant. And if you're dominant, you're going to look more aggressive than everybody else."
His dominance is not in question. In five years in the league, Suh has racked up 180 total tackles and 36 sacks in 78 games. But what is in question are the incidents where they arguably went too far. Pushing people's heads in the ground, stepping on other players, these are the images that he has come to be known for.
And let's not pretend he's a wolf among sheep. Since 2010 when Suh joined the league, the Lions have paid $1.2 million in fines, from 31 different players. Suh is known for being a tough player, but in Detroit that's something like par for the course.
The biggest thing about Suh is maybe what can't be measured. How many sacks can the Lions defense credit Suh for? Not because he was the one putting the quarterback on the ground, but because he was commanding two blockers by himself, opening up space for Nick Fairley or Ziggy Ansah. How many times has he disrupted the quarterback? Or forced an interception with pressure on the quarterback?
The intangibles, not the hype, are what NFL execs will be looking at this offseason. So when you're watching TV saying "Why would anyone want to sign Suh? He's such a dirty player," understand that those exec's saw past the buildup from the league and the media, and signed a player they knew would make a difference on every play. They've also hired a well-educated, philanthropic man to the program.
Oh, and one more award to keep in mind. Suh was named America's most charitable athlete by The Giving Back Fund in 2011. Suh donated $2.6 million to his alma mater, the University of Nebraska,to go towards strength and conditioning programs, as well as set up an endowed fund for the Nebraska College of Engineering -- which Suh graduated from with a degree in construction management. Suh's $2.6 million donation was more than Eli Manning (University of Mississippi) and Tom Brady (the Red Cross) donated, combined. Not to mention his efforts through his own charity programs, including the Ndamukong Suh Family Fund, Camp SUH, the 90 Backpack Program and SUH's Scholar Program.
Quite the villain indeed...
Annie Moore is a junior at the University of Louisville majoring in Communications with a Sport Administration minor. She believes Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame. Follow her on Twitter: @AnyMoreSports