Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Defending Dirty Ndamukong Suh

Mammoth Detroit Lions' defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, notorious for his dirty play, is usually the one who is stepping on people. This time he got stepped on, by the mighty NFL. Incensed, he cried foul.

Suh is usually in the wrong, but not this time. He'd gotten a raw deal. But justice eventually prevailed.
Here's what happened:

On Sunday, in the Lions' 30-20 loss to the Packers in Green Bay, Suh twice stepped on the leg of prone Packers' QB Aaron Rodgers after a fourth-quarter play. He was on the ground behind Suh, who stepped back twice to move out of the way of a crowd. Suh's movements could have been interpreted as accidental but, because it was Suh, they were deemed intentional. Rodgers, who took an angry swipe at him, definitely thought Suh had evil intentions. NFL official Merton Hanks, who judges such matters, agreed. So Suh was suspended for the next game, a playoff contest against Dallas.

A horrible decision. Suh is a crucial cog in the Lions' battering-ram defense. There's not a better defensive tackle in the NFL. Without him, the Detroit D slips a notch, maybe even two.

The Hanks' punishment far outweighed the crime. Watching the tape of the offense over and over, it's not totally clear that it was intentional. Even if it was, it's not the kind of violation that warrants forcing a player to miss something as important as a playoff game. Suh's behavior was borderline dirty but definitely not vicious enough to merit a one-game suspension.

Fortunately, hearings officer Ted Cotrell, after examining the appeal, overturned Hanks' decision, revoking the one-game suspension and replacing it with a $70,000 fine.

What's blatantly unfair is that, clearly, if another player had stepped on Rodgers, it would not have resulted in such a severe punishment. But because of Suh's reputation as a dirty player, the penalty was magnified. Over the years Suh has paid over $420,000 in dirty-play penalties. The NFL's policy is simple--if it's a Suh violation, it has to be dripping with malicious intent. No question, the league loves penalizing Suh.

Another element of the punishment is that it happened against Rodgers, one of the league's golden boys. If Suh had done the exact same thing to a third-string nobody QB, there's no way it would have resulted in a one-game suspension. The whole incident, in fact, would hardly have been noticed.

I'm not an advocate of dirty play. Suh is often in the wrong, crossing the line from tough play to dirty play. But nobody should be punished unfairly--even a perennial violator like Suh.

Glad the NFL got it right this time.