It's fair to say that Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh didn't always do or say the right thing in his second NFL season. But we should also acknowledge that he has some aggressive and powerful advisers who have wasted no time in their efforts to rehabilitate his image.
In the first 10 days after the Lions' season ended, Suh made two high-profile national television appearances that provided friendly environments to demonstrate his off-field charm. His appearance on CBS' "The NFL Today" pregame show Sunday morning, as well as Tuesday night's stint on NBC's "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" were randomly timed and, to my knowledge, not tied to any event or product endorsement.
Sitting behind the CBS anchor desk Sunday, Suh answered several questions about his controversial season, most notably his Thanksgiving Day stomp of Green Bay Packers guard Evan Dietrich-Smith. When asked by analyst Boomer Esiason about that "fiasco," Suh said he is a "very humble and hungry individual" who wants to make things right.
USA Today television columnist Michael Hiestand wrote that "NFL players in on-air network cameos often use them as de facto audition[s] for future TV work." Suh, on the other hand, "seemed focus[ed] on image rehab." The Baltimore Sun's David Zurawik was more blunt, writing that Suh delivered "self-serving, public-relations-coached spin-talk about his 'growth' as a 'young man.'"
Fallon, meanwhile, led Suh through a five-minute interview in which they discussed the $2.6 million gift he gave to the University of Nebraska two years ago, as well as his decision to present his father with the first NFL paycheck he earned. The Thanksgiving Day game did not come up, but Suh did say he has a "good feeling" the Lions are going to make "a good run" to the Super Bowl next season.
For what it's worth, I have to think this is the window dressing for the real work that lies ahead. Most of us know that Suh is an articulate, intelligent and often charming person off the field. That's why advertisers across the country were so quick to sign him up after his All-Pro rookie season in 2010. I wasn't surprised to watch him represent himself well over the past few days.
But the paradox of Suh is that he doesn't take those attributes into games with him. Those who have carried doubts about him into the offseason want to see him repair his image on the field. Their opinions will sway based on how he conducts himself there, and whether he can maintain control in moments when the Lions need him most. His efforts on national television are but a condiment to that main course.