Yesterday, Lions DT Ndamukong Suh successfully appealed his one-game suspension for twice stepping on the injured leg of Aaron Rodgers. There is legitimate debate to be had over whether Suh deserved to be suspended for this weekend's playoff game; there is no debate that Suh has a reputation as one of the dirtiest players in the league. Yet for the purposes of deciding his punishment, the NFL was not allowed to consider Suh's past. Why not?
Suh has garnered eight previous fines, seven of them for player-safety violations. But, as first noted by NFL.com's Judy Battista, Suh did not qualify as a repeat offender, and so avoided the greater scrutiny and harsher discipline that ignominy carries with it. He barely made it too.
Under a policy change made earlier this year, players who behave themselves are allowed to escape the repeat-offender tag with time; if they go 32 games without committing a second finable or suspendable player-safety violation, they're off the list. When Suh stepped on Aaron Rodgers, he was playing in his 33rd game since his last fine—a low block on John Sullivan in Week 1 of 2013 that garnered a record $100,000.
(Suh is lucky the rule counts two preseason games per year toward the 32-game threshold; he wouldn't yet have reached it otherwise. He's also very lucky the NFL didn't notice a 2013 Week 2 elbow to Eric Winston's head until it was too late. And he's incredibly lucky the league reversed its decision to fine him for going helmet-to-facemask on Brandon Weeden in Week 6 of that season.)
Even if Suh just got in under the wire to avoid being treated as an official recidivist, this is exactly how the the rehabilitation stipulation is supposed to work. If a player genuinely tries to change his game, he should be rewarded. And hearing officer Ted Cottrell, in his decision to overturn this suspension, specifically cited Suh's efforts over the past year to stay out of trouble.
"I think you were sincere when you said that you respect the game, and have listened to the advice of your coaches, as well as that of Troy Vincent during his visit with you in the offseason," Cottrell wrote. "Based on your representations, I am willing to give you the benefit of doubt that you did not intend to injure your opponent."
So Suh will play against the Cowboys on Sunday. He also won't receive the formal benefit of the doubt for another two years. That seems fair.