Is Ndamukong Suh dirty or is the NFL too soft?
(CBS/AP) Ndamukong Suh had already been called a dirty player and voted one of the NFL's "meanest" by his peers before he stomped on Green Bay's Evan Dietrich-Smith after the whistle on Thanksgiving in a loss to the Packers.
The defensive star's subsequent mea culpa on Facebook and apology to Commissioner Roger Goodell did little to quell his reputation. On Tuesday, the NFL suspended Suh for two games without pay.
Suh promptly appealed his suspension, hoping his stomp doesn't keep him away from his playoff-hopeful teammates when they need him most. His appeal hearing hadn't been scheduled as of late Tuesday.
If Suh doesn't win the appeal, he won't play against the Saints or in the Dec. 11 home game against Minnesota. He would return Dec. 12 ahead of a road game against Oakland. Suh is barred from practice and the team's facility while suspended.
The question remains: Is Suh a bona fide dirty player or is he the scapegoat of a kinder, gentler league? The NFL fines players weekly for being too rough for today's standards - often for hits that would never have drawn a flag, let alone a fine a few decades ago.
San Francisco 49ers center Jonathan Goodwin said Suh is at the top of the "dirty" list.
"As of right now, you've got to look at him that way," Goodwin said Monday. "You don't see too many guys stomp on a guy. To me a dirty player is a guy that's doing stuff after the play."
Suh's in the spotlight for his actions, but players have crossed the line since the league was born and probably always will do so at football's highest level.
Mean Joe Greene knows what it's like to be regarded as a nasty player in the NFL.
The Hall of Famer hopes Suh's name doesn't get stuck in the mud for the rest of his career.
"If it happens in the game, there's a place for it," Greene said Monday night in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "If you haven't played interior defensive line, you won't know and you'll never know what it's like in there.
"I don't think anything that happens on the field is dirty, but Suh shouldn't have done what he did. He let the moment get away."
Suh got tangled on the turf with guard Dietrich-Smith, and his reaction may hurt him and his team, which is trying to make the playoffs for the first time this century.
He pushed Dietrich-Smith's helmet down as he got up, raised his right knee and stepped down hard on the Packers player's right arm while he lay defenseless on the ground. See the replay here:
Greene, who helped the Pittsburgh Steelers win four Super Bowls during his career from 1969-81, recalled getting his nickname "Mean" because he played for the Mean Green at North Texas.
"When I got drafted, they called me Mean Joe Greene and it stuck," the former star defensive tackle said. "Then, I got kicked out of a ballgame my rookie year and I couldn't shake that nickname.
"I hope what Suh did doesn't give him a bad rap because he's an outstanding talent."
Suh's unique skill set and relentless passion helped him be the only rookie on the All-Pro team last year and NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
His rough play, though, has put a $42,500 dent in his bank account entering this week. His latest misstep will likely prove the most costly. Suh was fined in August for a third time in less than a year for roughing up quarterbacks. He grabbed Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton and threw him to the turf after he had gotten rid of the ball in a preseason game this year.
"That kind of stuff's just stupid," Bengals offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said Monday. "I'm not going to give him credit and say he's a dirty player. That's just cheap, that's not dirty. You can grab a quarterback and throw them down when they're not expecting it, it doesn't make you tough."
Suh was docked twice last year for shoving Chicago's Jay Cutler high in the back and for twisting Cleveland's Jake Delhomme's face mask and slamming him to the ground.
He has been able to absorb the fines, making $40 million guaranteed with a chance to get paid as much as $68 million in his five-year contract he signed after Detroit drafted the former Nebraska star No. 2 overall in 2010.
"He plays aggressive," Denver defensive lineman Jason Hunter said. "Suh is a passionate guy. He plays the game how you're supposed to play it: nasty, fierce, ferocious, intimidator. I mean, in this age, people forget how football was played back in the day. How he's playing, that's how it was played. Now, it's evolved so that way is kind of frowned upon. But back in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, football was played worse than what Suh was doing."
Suh's reputation has had to take a lot of hits and he knew that even before his latest gaffe.
He requested and received a meeting earlier this season with Commissioner Roger Goodell to discuss his play and claimed he came away from the visit in New York with a better understanding how he needs to play to help his team win.
Suh's stomp startled many viewers, who tuned in on Thanksgiving. But Matt Millen, echoing Hunter's comments, said he'd seen that and worse up close many times during his career that started a few decades ago with the notorious Oakland Raiders.
"I played against Conrad Dobler, who would bite or kick you, and what Ndamukong did in comparison is small potatoes," said Millen, a four-time Super Bowl-winning linebacker and former Lions general manager. "What he did was par for the course back in the day.
"If he did that then, he'd still be playing, but it's a different game now."
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