Ndamukong Suh has got to give it up. And I'm not talking about the money for his latest fine, I'm talking about the game itself. At least for a little while. Since his 2010 arrival in the NFL, Suh has been a topic of discussion for all the wrong reasons. To quote Will Ferrell's character, Mugatu, in Zoolander, "Doesn't anyone notice this? I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!"
When I entered the NFL in 1984, concussions, cut blocks, crackbacks and a quarterback's exposure to injury were part of the game. Now, almost 30 years later, it has taken suicides by retired players, a lawsuit with 4,500 former players as plaintiffs, and moms all over the country to make us all realize that the culture of football had to change. Unless you live underground without the Internet, you have seen the headlines and news reports publicizing the difficulty former players have had because of the physical abuse they endured while playing the game. And as it should, the NFL has taken many steps to increase the safety of its players.
New rules, new equipment and new testing protocols have been instituted to remove some of the needless savagery. Players have adjusted to a new way of playing the game, but Suh, a defensive tackle for the Lions, obviously hasn't gotten the message.
I've interviewed Suh several times, and he is well-spoken and thoughtful, but it seems that something goes haywire inside his head when he puts on pads. I agree with Saints tight end Ben Watson, who told the NFL Network on Sept. 10, "I think it's a character issue. I think there's something going on here that we need to look at deeper."
Two games into his fourth season, Suh has been hit with 11 personal-foul penalties and fined six times for $177,500. Can you say "habitual offender"? In 2011 he was suspended for two games after stomping on the arm of Packers lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith. In 2012 he kicked Texans quarterback Matt Schaub in the groin. In 2011 and 2012 he was voted the league's dirtiest player in a Sporting News poll of NFL players. His latest assault occurred on opening week, when Suh cut out the knees of Vikings center John Sullivan from behind while blocking on an interception return. It was dangerous and extremely dumb—he cost his team a touchdown after he was called for an illegal block.
Considering Suh's history, I find it comical and insulting when his agent, Roosevelt Barnes, says that his client is being persecuted. It's Suh's actions alone that have generated the harsh criticism and disciplinary actions against him.
Most players view the NFL as something of a brotherhood. We recognize the aggressive nature of the game but also the small window of opportunity we have to play it. Therefore, we respect each other's well-being. Not Suh. He seems to fail to grasp that it's not a right but a privilege to wear an NFL uniform. Based on his multiple transgressions endangering other players, I believe the $100,000 fine levied against him by commissioner Roger Goodell is woefully soft. After all, this is a guy who is guaranteed to make at least $40 million.
The only way to make Suh understand that he needs to change his on-field behavior is to take away the thing that he claims to love so much—the game itself. When I compare Suh with former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, coach Sean Payton and the Saints players implicated in Bountygate, I find Suh's transgressions to be just as offensive. In my mind, nothing less than a six-game suspension and mandatory therapy should be handed down. I know it's severe, but I also know that Suh just doesn't get it. Every time he pulls one of these stunts, he not only endangers the unsuspecting victim but also sends a terrible message to young football players who look up to him. After so many incidents he deserves more than a slap on the wrist or what amounts to a nominal fine.
NFLPA president DeMaurice Smith tweeted that he had reached out to Suh about meeting with him, adding, "We believe that all players have a basic responsibility to each other." In general I would expect the union to assist a player in appealing a fine, especially such a large one (and it still might), but the problem with Suh is that his style of play makes it clear that other players need protection from him.
Suh's case has the potential to split the union and upset the sense of brotherhood among colleagues. I hope that Smith sees this, and that he sits down with Suh and counsels the young man to change his ways. No individual is bigger than the game, and anyone who has shown such blatant disregard for the safety and careers of his fellow players needs to change or be removed from the field.
A 13-year NFL veteran, Boomer Esiason is now a commentator for CBS's NFL Today and WestwoodOne MNF.
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