On Wednesday afternoon, the NFL fined Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh $20,000 for his hit on Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. A few hours later, Suh reacted incredulously and then accepted a suggestion that he is the NFL's version of Shaquille O'Neal.
"Shaq had the same problem when he was in the NBA," Suh told Detroit-area reporters. "He kept playing. NBA Hall of Famer soon to come, one of the greatest big men I've ever seen, so I hope to follow in his footsteps."
The "problem," as Shaq Suh apparently sees it: NFL officials don't recognize the effect of his superior strength on the regular joes around him. As you might recall, O'Neal believed NBA officials mistakenly called him for fouls when smaller players bumped him but then fell to the ground.
"Honestly," Suh said, "I really feel that I put the refs in a tough situation because of my strength. A lot of us players growing up and coming in, we're getting faster, stronger, and some guys just have incredible strength on that football field."
Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham backed the theory, saying: "There's no one that's ever played like this at defensive tackle."
I'm sorry. Even after discussing the issue with some of you on Twitter this evening, I don't get it. For this analogy to work, we would be saying that Shaq Suh is so strong that his otherwise legal contact with quarterbacks results in an exaggerated physical reaction that tricks officials into believing the hit merits a penalty.
In other words, a mere touch from Suh sends a quarterback flipping head over heels while spontaneously separating his helmet as well.
Let's all take a step back here for a moment. Suh has been fined for three hits to the quarterback in his career, and one -- maybe -- was a Shaq-like event. This past December, referee Ed Hochuli apparently assumed that Suh hit Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler on the back of his helmet after seeing Cutler's body lurch forward. Replays showed Suh hit Cutler just below the helmet on his upper back.
But Friday night, Suh wasn't penalized for the violence of his hit on Dalton. The penalty was for hitting Dalton after the pass, and the large fine was the result of two prior offenses. I still don't think it was a dirty play. It just wasn't legal. By NFL rules, it is Suh's responsibility to know whether the quarterback still has the ball and react accordingly.
In this case, Suh was no different than Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison or any other pass-rusher who has received hefty fines in the past year. We can argue night and day whether the NFL has overreacted to its goal of improving player safety. But in 2011, any player who hits a quarterback after the pass will run the risk of a penalty and an NFL fine. Whether he can crush a brick with his bare hand or move a mountain is immaterial.
Look, I think Suh is one of the best things to happen in the NFC North in a long time. There is no doubt he is a special athlete and player. But can we drop the dramatic victimization here? If there is any injustice, it's that the NFL is targeting defensive players to remedy an across-the-board issue.
In that vein, I'm sorry to report that Shaq Suh is in the same boat as every other defensive player in the league. He must manage his play within the confines of the NFL rules, fair or not, and accept the consequences when he doesn't. There should be no exceptions, even if you can leap tall buildings in a single bound.