Ndamukong Suh: Dirty Player or Gritty Competitor?

Eric Vincent@@IAmEricVincentCorrespondent IDecember 9, 2012

DETROIT, MI - NOVEMBER 22:  Ndamukong Suh #90 of the Detroit Lions adjusts his face mask while playing the Houston Texans at Ford Field on November 22, 2012 in Detroit, Michigan. Houston won the game 34-31. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

A professional athlete can only succeed as far as their reputation takes them. 

Humble and quiet receivers like Calvin Johnson don't draw major attention but always produce on the field. However, divas such as Dez Bryant continuously draw more attention for their attitude instead of their production.

Legendary diva Terrell Owens had an impressive year in Cincinnati, catching 72 passes for 983 yards and nine touchdowns at 37 years old, but the world was more focused on his next off-the-field antic. 

The Lakers' Metta World Peace can change his name to whatever he wants, but he'll always be thought of as a distraction.

Now, the Detroit Lions' Ndamukong Suh has become a victim of his own reputation. 

Suh has built a negative image around the league as a dirty player. A poll was taken in November, and the controversial tackle was voted the most dirty player in the NFL. Another survey was taken for most liked and disliked players, where Suh ranked No. 1 least liked. 

There have been a number of instances since Suh's rookie season. Whether it be defacing quarterback Jake Delhomme or bodyslamming Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, Suh finds a way to create controversy with his play. 

Even legal-but-violent plays have put him in a negative light. Suh was flagged in 2010 against the Bears for a forearm push of quarterback Jay Cutler. The play wasn't illegal, but it looked dirty initially. Plus, Suh's track record made that play look worse than what it was.

The high-profile tackle was again flagged in 2010 for tackling Marion Barber by his hair. The play was later reviewed and ruled to be legal by the NFL.

The most recent occurrence happened again on Thanksgiving, where Suh fell and kicked Matt Schaub in the groin. What appeared as an accident transformed into another media firestorm.

Suh became vilified and degraded as a football player among the NFL media. Analysts Boomer Esiason and Shannon Sharpe took shots at Suh during halftime of the Thanksgiving game. 

Judgement of that magnitude only occurs when it has a popular name attached to it, and that has been the case with Suh. Incidents involving the Lions tackle becomes a week-long discussion on ESPN, while other problems are barely discussed. 

Saints defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley was ejected and fined for kicking Alex Boone of the 49ers. Bunkley's incident was barely discussed, and he wasn't suspended despite the malicious intent. 

Meanwhile after the 2011 Thanksgiving stomp, Suh was suspended two games without pay.

The NFL has placed a target on Suh's back, keeping him on center stage whenever a disputable play happens. The camera will always be on No. 90 during the aftermath of his quarterback pursuit. 

Suh plays with a "by any means necessary" kind of style when rushing the quarterback. Through taking constant double-teams from offensive linemen, Suh scratches and claws his way to get to the ball.

In the end, isn't that how defensive tackles are taught to play?

Offensive and defensive linemen are the dirtiest and grittiest players on an NFL roster. Starting from trash talk at the line to pushing and pulling their opposition, dirty plays happen more frequently than people realize.

It's more of a matter if referees catch the foul play. Officials won't catch every hold and pull, creating plenty of opportunity for dirty play.

Suh is no dirtier than any other tackle, but his reputation keeps him in a negative spotlight. He's been a high-profile player since being the No. 2 pick out of Nebraska in 2010.

He's highly targeted in offensive blocking schemes to protect the quarterback. Given his talent, motor and sense of aggression, opponents always give Suh their best shot. 

His production somewhat excused the rookie-year antics after he picked up 10 sacks in 2010, but he hit a sophomore slump with only four sacks. He looks to have regained his edge with 5.5 sacks this year, and he and Nick Fairley form a very dangerous duo. 

Suh won't be able to escape his reputation, so the "dirty" label will stick for years to come. He deserves his share of blame, along with the media exaggerating his incidents. His violent episodes draw more attention than his talent, and that will remain the case because of his reputation.