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Thursday, September 12, 2013
Inside Slant: Players must police Suh

By Kevin Seifert

The NFL has taken more than $342,000 from Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh in the form of six fines and one suspension for on-field transgressions. On Wednesday, in the aftermath of his most recent incident, Suh told reporters: "My play speaks for itself. I don't change."

So what now?

The NFL's escalating fine policy clearly hasn't had an impact, nor should it be expected to with a player who has earned more than $50 million in salary and bonuses over the past three seasons. And surely the league doesn't want to suspend a player, Suh or any other, for something as relatively minor as a low block.

So if anything productive has come from Suh's shot at the knees of Minnesota Vikings center John Sullivan, it's the relatively forceful reaction from a more credible source of deterrence: his peers.

Suh's teammates, of course, rallied around him after a team meeting this week, but feedback elsewhere has been notable for its tone of brotherhood and demand of respect. A representative swath of league figures -- even the head of the NFL Players Association -- has suggested, in various ways, that responsibility for reining in Suh might ultimately fall on his fellow players.

Ndamukong Suh
"We are trying to have a clean game and these things are unnecessary," Saints tight end Benjamin Watson said of Ndamukong Suh's latest transgression.
Vikings defensive end Jared Allen said the block on Sullivan was "uncalled for" but also added: "This is a fraternity. In the NFL, you try to take care of guys. Things happen, and guys are going to make hits. But you can't take a dude's legs out from behind on an interception return down the field."

Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said he thought Suh used "poor judgment." DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, tweeted that he reached out to Suh because "we believe that all players have a basic responsibility to each other."

Most tellingly, I thought, New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson told NFL Network that other players need to start holding Suh accountable.

"This is about players getting on players and him deciding, 'Hey, I am going to abide by the rules,'" Watson said. "He is making it a danger for a lot of guys, and his conduct needs to stop."

Watson added: "It is a privilege to play in the NFL. It is not a right. Because of that, we have to respect each other, respect what each other are trying to do out here. We are trying to have a clean game and these things are unnecessary. … [I]f you care about your team, if you care about the guys you are in the game with, you are going to play within the rules. Again, player safety. Guys are out there trying to make a living, trying to go to work. It is frustrating to me, as a[n] offensive player, when a guy continues to do these sorts of things."

I know what many of Suh's supporters would say in this instance because I covered the Lions as part of the NFC North blog for five years. Many of you believe Suh's reputation has been inflamed and perpetuated by the media after his eventful rookie season, and I've corresponded with many who suggest that players are influenced by the same coverage.

That might be true in some cases. I think it's also fair to point out that Suh's total of personal fouls dropped from 10 in his first two seasons to one in 2012, according to the NFL's game statistics information system. But a 12th personal foul in the first game of a new season served as a sobering reminder of his past and potential future.

The Lions have always deferred discipline to the league, and the league hasn't had much success. I believe Suh when he says he doesn't plan to change his style. To this point, no one has given him a real reason to. That, unfortunately, leaves NFL players to police one of their own. We'll see if they're up to it.