|The Lions say the constant scrutiny of DT Ndamukong Suh must stop. (US Presswire)|
No matter how hard he tries, Ndamukong Suh can't seem to keep himself out of the headlines.
On Thanksgiving Day, Suh was the subject of national ridicule when pundits decreed that his kick of Texans QB Matt Schaub was intentional, rekindling oft-expressed opinions that the Lions DT is a dirty player, which, based on what we've seen this season, are incorrect.
He is the subject of a landlord-tenant lawsuit over a rental property he owns.
He has been involved in four traffic incidents within the last year, the most recent a Nov. 15 citation he received in Lathrup Village, Mich. for driving without due care and caution. The citation was issued after a police officer said he nearly caused an accident by cutting drivers off.
After two years filled with numerous negative headlines -- including national furor over his hits on opposing quarterbacks and a stomp of an opposing player last Thanksgiving -- the Lions finally appear to be sick of the circus surrounding Suh.
Not Suh's actions, mind you, especially during a season when he's only been penalized once -- for encroachment.
In increasing numbers, Lions' players and coaches can't seem to understand why everything Suh does -- both on-field and off -- deserves seemingly relentless scrutiny.
“When we talk [to media], you want to be [talking] football,” guard Rob Sims said. “I understand it can't be, because off the field [issues] sell papers, and people like to watch it, but some of the stuff is just kind of ticky-tacky, kiddie to me.”
Sims isn't the only one asking why something as simple as a traffic ticket is a story, even though Suh has a less-than-exemplary driving record. Coach Jim Schwartz admitted that Suh isn't the only Lions' player who has run afoul of traffic law, but he seems to be one of the few who warrants a headline when he does.
“We have traffic citations for a lot of different players and those generally don't come across my desk,” Schwartz said. "[Traffic issues] don't really come on our radar as long as people are taking care of what they are supposed to be taking care of.”
Schwartz -- who did say he thought it would be a good idea for every NFL player to have a driver to avoid situations like Suh's -- said his primary focus when it comes to Suh is his improvement on the football field, not behind the wheel.
Schwartz' assertion that he's focused on what Suh does on the field set the stage for him to comment on Suh's controversial kick of Schaub, and the vitriolic reaction to the incident. When asked for his thoughts on the play, and the NFL's decision not to suspend Suh, Schwartz took time on Tuesday to defend his player's improved discipline.
“I think that Ndamukong has done a really good job this year of avoiding penalties,” he said. “He's been penalized one time all year and that was a 5-yard, offsides penalty. From where he was the two previous years, he's obviously worked very hard to put those kinds of things in his past. I think that we've been pleased with that.”
Both Schwartz and Sims said they didn't feel Suh's kick was intentional -- the Texans disagree -- and Schwartz pointed out that Suh's body position on the play made intent to injure unlikely.
“What I saw was [Suh's] head was down and away from that play,” he said. “In my mind, you would have to have eyes in the back of your head to be able to [intentionally kick Schaub].”
To be fair, Suh hasn't done himself any favors when it comes to his reputation. Until recently, he has been standoffish with the media, and he has contributed to his reputation by defiantly stating on several occasions that no one truly understands him.
His negative history led to a comprehensive review of the Schaub-Suh incident by the League, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told the Detroit Free Press Tuesday that the reason Suh avoided a second suspension in as many seasons was because the league could not prove intent.
“Anytime you see a play like [Suh's kick], you want to say, ‘Why did it happen?'” Goodell said. “It's hard for us to be able to determine that just from video. Those are the things that sometimes you have to talk to Ndamukong in this case, or the player, but intent is something that's very difficult for us to ever try to make a judgment on.”
Goodell went on to praise Suh's play, and charity work, and called on him to continue to avoid distractions that can detract from his playing career.
“I think Ndamukong prides himself in what he does on the field and that's something that you always want to keep that focus as a player,” Goodell said. “He also does a lot off the field in a positive way, but they get lost when things happen that can distract from that. That's the one thing that Ndamukong and I have talked about in the past is keep the focus on your playing and what you do in a positive way off the field, and he knows he needs to do that, as every player does.”
Goodell's wish for Suh to be a better person on and off the field may be difficult if people continue to let his previous reputation dictate their opinion of him. Sims said any opportunity to put mistakes in the past will be difficult for Suh -- or any other Lions' player -- if they are the subject of unfair coverage of minor off-field incidents.
“[Covering players' minor off-field issues or lawsuits] is ridiculous," he said. “[Off-field issues] are between the people involved.”
Follow Lions reporter John Kreger on Twitter at @CBSLions and @JohnKreger.