Listening to Ndamukong Suh’s verbal contortions in the aftermath of his Thanksgiving Day stomp was like hearing a small child explain that his imaginary friend had eaten a full sleeve of Oreo cookies. After the Lions’ loss to the Packers, Suh claimed that he did “not by any means” intentionally step on Evan Dietrich-Smith’s arm. He was merely, in a rather inelegant way, extricating himself from a pile-up. “As you see, I'm walking away from the situation,” he explained.
As a general rule, one does not walk away from a situation by accelerating one’s foot backwards into a large man who’s lying on the ground. When England soccer star Wayne Rooney was sent off in the quarterfinals of the 2006 World Cup for stomping on an opposing defender’s gonads, he could at least somewhat plausibly claim to be “gobsmacked” by the ref’s reaction to an unfortunate accident. Rooney’s job is to kick a ball, sometimes wildly, and Ricardo Carvalho’s testicles could have conceivably been where Rooney thought the ball was. (They were not, but it is at least sort of believable.)
On a scale of plausible deniability, Suh’s kick falls much closer to Albert Haynesworth’s head-stomp of Andre Gurode, which Haynesworth acknowledged at the time was “disgusting” and “disgraceful.” Suh’s stomp was not as abhorrent as Haynesworth’s—and will likely net him a two-game suspension as opposed to Haynesworth’s five-gamer—but his intentions were just as obvious.
That’s what makes Suh’s post-game, stomp-explaining press conference so amazing to behold. “If I [were to] see a guy stepping on somebody, I feel like they’re going to lean into it and forcefully stand over the person or step on that person,” the Clintonian lineman told reporters after the game. I’m amazed that nobody broke out laughing.
Suh’s whopper—which also included a classic non-apology apology for “allowing the refs to have an opportunity to take me out of this game”—doesn’t fall into the usual categories of NFL prevarication. I count four standard formats of NFL fibbing:
Lying about an injury report: This is standard practice to mask vulnerabilities and confuse the opposition. Some coaches—Mike Shanahan comes to mind—are better at this than others. When he was with the Broncos, Shanahan lied to CBS in the middle of a game to mask the fact that Jake Plummer had a separated shoulder.
Lying about the quality of an opponent: When a player says how good an opponent is despite evidence to the contrary—“man, those Colts were the toughest team we’ve faced all year.” (Tom Brady admits that his press conferences are full of these kinds of bromides.) Most of us view these more as necessary fibs than true lies.
An owner lying about a coach’s future: The old “vote of confidence.” Also see coaches who show support for doomed quarterbacks.
Lying about cheating: See Belichick, Bill.
Suh’s lie doesn’t fit any of these templates. It is sui generis in its stupidity and arrogance—the degree to which it insults the intelligence of fans, journalists, his teammates, league officials, and anyone who has access to a television and at least one functioning eye.
Suh eventually told his Facebook fans that he had “made a mistake” and “learned from it,” but never said what the mistake was or directly apologized to Dietrich-Smith. Contrast the Lions defensive lineman with Stevie Johnson. The Bills wide receiver was flagged for excessive celebration on Sunday after miming Plaxico Burress’ self-inflicted gunshot wound. Following a fancy little bullet dance, Johnson then went into a rendition of Santonio Holmes’ jet celebration before mock crashing into the turf. If we were grading on Tommy’s Elmo Wright scale of exuberance mixed with Fuck you! and Fuck yes! spirit, then Johnson would deserve a lifetime achievement award. Unfortunately for the Bills, all Johnson got was a 15-yard penalty, which helped give the Jets the field position to score a touchdown after Dave Rayner’s botched kickoff.
The difference between Suh and Johnson, aside from the receiver’s superior dance moves, is that the latter seemed to be genuinely contrite in his post-game remarks. “It was a bad decision that I made and it cost our team seven points,” he said. “I’m always willing to learn something.”
You can debate whether or not a player’s off-field character is at all relevant to how he plays on the field. If I had to bet on which of these two men is going to hurt his team again, though, I know who I’d pick.