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For Rich NFL Players, Do Fines Matter?


One hundred thousand dollars - that's how much the NFL fined Ndamukong Suh for an illegal play in last Sunday's game. Suh is a defensive tackle for the Detroit Lions, and this is the largest fine in NFL history for conduct on the field.

Dave Zirin is the sports editor for The Nation. Dave, thanks for being with us.

DAVE ZIRIN: Oh, great to be here. Thanks for having me.

LYDEN: So, Dave, we should mention that Suh is appealing this fine by the NFL, $100,000. He says that's too harsh. But first of all, let's go back. What exactly happened in Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings?

ZIRIN: Well, here's the thing. What Suh did is he hit a defenseless player from behind when the player was completely outside of the play as it was taking place. A Detroit Lions player was streaking down the field and Ndamukong Suh came up behind Minnesota Vikings center John Sullivan and hit him right in the knee from behind. This is just not something that you do. And on top of that, this is just the latest in a series of on-field incidents for Suh. That is why we can say it is the largest fine in NFL history.

LYDEN: So it seems like an attempt to deal with Suh's behavior. And for ordinary folk, $100,000 is a staggering sum. But for somebody - I gather Ndamukong Suh's made more than $51 million since he joined the Lions a few years ago. This guy's in his mid-20s. Is this really going to change the way he plays?

ZIRIN: Well, I think it will change the way he plays because there are strong indications that if he does something like this again, we're then talking about suspensions and then we're talking about even more serious actions against Suh. I mean, it's really gotten to a point where people in the NFL offices are just frustrated that he feels like he can do things like this on the field.

I mean, even the union, the NFLPA, which as a default stands up for players when they get these kinds of fines, have been silent after this because they don't want players acting like this on the field either. And John Sullivan himself, the person who was hit, who, by the way, was coming off a knee surgery that he had during the off-season, said afterwards that there need to be consequences when guys don't respect the careers of other players.

LYDEN: You know, in the last few years, the NFL has been heavily criticized, as even casual observers know, for the injuries. Especially the concussions have really been a problem. Has the league been able to hold the line, if you will, with fines?

ZIRIN: No. I mean, fines are generally ineffective precisely because of the amounts of money that the players make. And because the NFL Players Association vigorously fights these fines and tries to appeal them for the simple reason that unlike this case with Suh, many of these fines happen just in the course of play. You're running at somebody, you're trying to tackle them. You put your head down and wrap around their waist. The player you're trying to tackle ducks his head and then, bam, you have helmet-to-helmet contact, which is nothing to be dismissive about. It's very dangerous.

But there's no intent there to actually hurt the person. And that's one of the things that's very frustrating to NFL players, is that the National Football League speaks very strongly about the safety of players and about that being their first concern, yet at the same time the National Football League is pushing for a longer season, 18 games. They now have weekly games on Thursday nights, which means less times for the players of those teams to be able to heal.

So they feel like there's a lot of hypocrisy. And then when they get hit with $75,000, in this case $100,000 in the pocketbook, it feels like, well, the NFL is really just about taking our money while trying to figure out how to make more money themselves.

LYDEN: Dave Zirin is the sports editor for The Nation. Dave, thank you so much for joining us.

ZIRIN: My privilege. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.