I don’t necessarily question the league’s decision to fine Suh considering his history. He was suspended two games for stomping on the leg of Evan Dietrich-Smith on Thanksgiving in 2011, and was fined $30,000 for what seemed to be an intentional kick to the groin of Houston quarterback Matt Schaub. But, I do question why Suh is getting fined so heavily. A bad reputation can only justify so much before Suh starts looking like a victim.
To be clear, I don’t advocate Suh’s behavior and attitude, both of which must improve, but I do think he’s become the poster boy of a pseudo-disciplined league. The NFL is using Suh as an example to show that it does not tolerate misconduct and violence, but they are handing down its harshest punishments to the wrong players for the wrong reasons. The league is targeting defensive players to try to create an image as a “safe” and “disciplined” game, neither of which the NFL is achieving.
This point becomes clear when looking at the “dirtiest” players in football. What constitutes “dirty?” A player is a dirty player if his goal is not to win, but to take revenge or intentionally hurt an opponent by hitting them in areas where they are vulnerable to injury. Suh is considered one of the league’s most vicious and dirtiest players. But, when looking at other players who are considered “dirty,” a strange trend starts to form. Hines Ward, Kevin Mawae, Harvey Dahl and Richie Incognito were considered four of the dirtiest players of the last decade in a poll conducted by Sports Illustrated. All four of these players lined up on the offensive side of the ball, Ward at receiver and the other three as linemen. No matter how “dirty” their blocks were, or how many cheap shots they took at defensive players’ knees, not one of them faced suspension. On the other hand, Cortland Finnegan, Roy Williams and Albert Haynesworth, three of the dirtiest players according to the same poll, have all faced suspension for on field conduct at some point during their careers. It’s a strange pattern, and it’s worth wondering why defensive players are facing punishment for unsportsmanlike conduct while offensive players’ behavior is slid under the rug.
It seems like the NFL may be protecting their playmakers, or as one could call it their “paymakers” (pun intended, though not a very good one). People love offense. The game has become pass-happy and offensively minded over the past 15 years and teams and individual players are setting offensive records which were never thought possible. As a result, it’s much harder for the league to take their offensive stars off the field when they’re filling the seats. Just as home runs fill the seats in baseball, the Hail Mary brings fans to the stadium in football.
I’m suspicious guys like Suh are taking the heat as a result. The league has been under the microscope with its embarrassingly high arrest and DUI rate and its questionable handling of head injuries and concussions. The best thing it could do is show that it is a “disciplined “and “safe” league by targeting and suspending the players who make the most conspicuous hits on the field: defensive players. By suspending a defensive star like Suh, the league wins in two ways. It creates a safe and disciplined image while also keeping its moneymakers, the offensive players, on the field. It’s not unfair to label Suh as a dirty player, but I don’t give the league a free pass so easily when it can certainly benefit from the absence of its star defensive players for an occasional and convenient one or two game suspension.