Here we go again. The Detroit sports fans are cranky with one of their star athletes for acting differently than they feel is appropriate.
This isn’t Philadelphia, where they run the stars out of town at the drop of a hat. Mike Schmidt, for goodness sake, got on the fans’ bad side in the City of (ahem) Brotherly Love at one time.
This is Detroit, where the fans do a slow burn.
Last week was a snapshot of what can happen to a professional athlete in Detroit if you don’t wear a big old “D” on your heart in the way the fans think you should.
Prince Fielder and Ndamukong Suh bobbed to the surface last week and in both instances, the fans sneered.
Fielder, of course, became a human lightning rod for yet another miserable playoff performance last fall, which came with a heaping side order of perceived indifference. He was subsequently traded to Texas and not too many Tigers fans shed a tear.
Fielder was supposed to be in town with his Rangers this weekend, but a bad neck that will require season-ending surgery put the kibosh on what would have been a delightfully awkward return.
Suh rankled the fans with his no-show at a voluntary mini-camp last month, and when he did appear at an organized team activity (OTA) last week, he met the media and said some strange things, which caused the phone lines on sports talk radio to light up like Roman candles.
Fielder is old news and he doesn’t play in Detroit anymore, so I’ll take a pass on him.
As for Suh, let’s fast forward to the fall.
Take his contract status out of the equation for a moment, because who knows what it will be. He is signed through 2014, but for now, that’s it.
Let’s flash to a football Sunday in September at Ford Field. And let’s imagine a big play involving Suh—be it a sack, a forced fumble or what have you.
Do you think the sold out crowd will sit on its hands because Suh didn’t attend a voluntary mini-camp in April?
Now let’s take that same game and imagine Suh being manhandled by the opposing offensive line, a fact that would hardly go unnoticed, either.
Do you think, had he attended the mini-camp in April, the fans would give him a pass for that poor game because, well, he attended a mini-camp in April?
The answer to both of the above questions, of course, is the same: a big, fat NO.
The mini-camp in April is inconsequential. Whether Suh attends such voluntary activities doesn’t affect his performance on fall Sundays in the least.
Deep down, the fans know that.
But the Detroit sports fan is a funny lot.
They are the blue collar, shot-and-beer type. They put in their 40-plus hours, settle in at night and flick on the telly to watch their beloved teams.
Or, in the case of Suh and the Lions, the fans plunk themselves down on their sofas and ruin their Sunday afternoons, voluntarily.
The fans punch the clock, on schedule, so they can’t understand why the athletes in town can’t do the same thing.
But how many fans have skipped voluntary meetings at work?
How many, when given an out to not attend if they don’t want to, decide to blow such meetings off?
I know I have. And I know you have, too.
But let’s be real.
Suh isn’t just another employee of the Detroit Lions. He was a captain in 2013. He’s held to a different standard. That’s why not attending something as insignificant as a voluntary mini-camp in April ruffles feathers. It shouldn’t, but it does.
The fans in Detroit crave leadership from their sports stars, whether it’s done quietly (Steve Yzerman, Barry Sanders) or in a fire and brimstone (Kirk Gibson) kind of way. If you are designated as a captain, then they want you leading by example even more.
So Suh doesn’t attend a voluntary mini-camp and the fans and the media lose their collective minds.
I agree that in a perfect world, your leaders are your leaders and they show up to everything, including things where their attendance isn’t required.
Suh, as a captain, probably should have dragged his big rear end to Allen Park last month for the mini-camp. Perception is reality. Suh in attendance would have placated the fickle, somewhat hypocritical fan base. It would have given new coach Jim Caldwell one less thing to deal with.
But it wouldn’t have done a thing to impact what the Lions’ won/lost record is going to be in 2014. That’s a fact.
Suh’s contract status isn’t endearing him to folks, either.
He is unsigned beyond 2014 and a restructured deal, had it been done early enough, would have been pretty helpful to management in planning for the future.
That ship has sailed, but the Lions continue to want to talk about an extension with Suh’s people.
This brings us to another thing Detroit sports fans don’t like: any hint that their athletes don’t want to be here.
The Detroit sports fan has no patience for the wishy-washy when it comes to the decision of staying in Motown or testing free agency or, worse, demanding a trade.
Suh’s contract status has been in question for far too long in the fans’ eyes.
Again, whether this feeling is reasonable or not, is inconsequential.
There seems to be a growing anti-Suh movement in Detroit, and I’m not sure why. On the field, he is still coveted by the other 31 teams in the NFL, his reputation for dirty play notwithstanding.
I believe that fans are turning on Suh because after four seasons as a Lion, it’s becoming evident to them that he doesn’t fit their idea of an athlete they can embrace.
It’s perplexing, actually.
Suh hasn’t said anything remotely like what Fielder told the media following the Tigers’ elimination in last year’s ALCS. You know, the comments about the loss not being a big deal and if the other pitcher makes a mistake he’ll hit it, but if he doesn’t, Fielder won’t.
Nothing close to those incendiary words, has Suh said.
But when Suh speaks to the media—and, by extension, to the fans—there is a hint of cavalier attitude in his words. You can’t help but think that you’re being talked down to, just a little.
And while Suh doesn’t pull a Fielder in terms of appearing not to care, he will occasionally say something odd, like he did last week when trying to emphasize that he wants to remain in Detroit beyond the length of his current contract.
“Probably a lot of you guys don’t know, I could have gone elsewhere when I was drafted. I had that decision in my hands,” Suh said. “I chose not to take it, because that’s just the way I saw it.”
The above statement has little, if any, factual base. It was a head scratcher, for sure. Everyone looked at each other and made a funny face when Suh said it.
That kind of stuff doesn’t help.
But I do know this. When the 2014 football season is underway, and Ndamukong Suh is being his dominant self, no one will be talking about mini-camps or any subterfuge regarding the 2010 Draft.
As long as he performs, nothing else will matter.
But for now, Caldwell and the Lions might be better off if they removed the captain’s designation from Suh. It could make a lot of the needless angst go away.