On Suh, players-only workouts, criticism

June, 11, 2011
6/11/11
9:00
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Item I: Carolina Panthers players make news when they hire a police officer to shoo reporters who attempted to cover a players-only workout. As a result, it's impossible to know exactly which players participated.

Item II: Detroit Lions players allow local reporters into their workouts. All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was a notable absence, and he absorbed some mild Twitter criticism for skipping them before arriving for the final workout Friday.

Item III: Suh spoke Friday with the NFL Network but refused comment to local reporters. (*See update below.)

[+] EnlargeNdamukong Suh
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioDoes Ndamukong Suh deserve to be criticized for skipping players-only workouts?
Only on occasion do we delve into media issues on this blog, but I would say that the somnolent second weekend of June might be as good of a time as any. To me, the juxtaposition of the Panthers' and Lions' situations provides an interesting intersection of media access, player privacy and our continuing discussions on the relevance of players-only workouts during the lockout.

First, I think we might have a better idea now for why Panthers players felt compelled to close their workout. It was voluntary, private and organized with much less notice than NFL teams typically give players for offseason training. It was inevitable that some players would pass for various reasons, and perhaps veteran Panthers players were actually protecting their teammates from the kind of public scrutiny that Suh received.

Did Suh deserve to be criticized for participating in the Gumball 3000 road race across Europe instead of practicing with his teammates? My opinion on these workouts hasn't changed: There is some value to quarterbacks working with receivers and other skill players, but the returns diminish for linemen on both sides of the ball.

Team unity and chemistry shouldn't be devalued, but in the end, the most important thing Suh can do is report to training camp -- whenever it starts -- in top physical condition. It would be an overreaction for Lions teammates to harbor any resentment for skipping unregulated workouts during a lockout.

Decoding Suh's media policy on Friday is a little more difficult. Apparently his arrival was related to an NFL Network package that included former linebacker Willie McGinnest, who also worked out Friday. Suh twice turned down local reporters, for which he didn't provide an explanation. But he did re-tweet an item via @ZacSnyder of SideLionReport that read: "Not sure why anyone who wrote an article criticizing @ndamukong_suh's absence would be surprised he didn't speak with them when present."

The implication, of course, is that Suh didn't want to speak to reporters who criticized, or in some cases merely noted, his previous absences. (Or, that anyone who wants to interview him had better not have a history of criticism. But we won't go there yet.) Regardless, Suh had every right to conduct himself in that manner. During the lockout, no NFL player has an obligation to submit to any interviews.

Generally speaking, however, I hope that's not a policy Suh pursues over time. The lockout is an unprecedented moment for everyone, but eventually football will return and routines will resume. At that point, I hope Suh realizes that true professionals accept and address criticism, whether it is fair or unfounded. It's part of the gig for almost everyone involved, including reporters and bloggers now that we have Twitter, Facebook, mailbags and comment sections.

I suppose Suh could become the rarest of sports figures to build a brand so big, and a cocoon so thick, that he will never feel compelled to step into the uncomfortable position most of his colleagues encounter as public figures. And I know there are many fans who don't care about anything other than how their favorite players perform on game day.

But in my experience, players who have decent control over what they say -- and Suh most certainly does -- always benefit from setting the record straight rather than ignoring it. Taking a few questions, and providing some reasonable answers, would have elevated his status in the eyes of those who consider a wider set of parameters when judging a player than simply his production on the field.

In the end, this was much ado about the most minor of offseason events -- a set of loose player-organized workouts during a lockout. Moving forward, I hope Suh isn't as sensitive to criticism about more substantive issues. We're all big boys here, aren't we?

*Update: Admirably, Suh spoke late Friday night to the Associated Press. He addressed his previous absences by saying: "It's unfortunate that I couldn't make it more [to workouts], but I was traveling back from Europe and I didn't want to be sluggish for the earlier workouts, and I went to Nebraska to take care of my shoulder. My shoulder is doing great."

Really, that's all it takes. Suh could have said the same thing hours earlier and avoided any sense that he was stung by the criticism. But regardless, the case is closed. Moving on ...

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