'Dirty' label could make Suh poor for endorsements - Omaha.com
Published Monday, November 28, 2011 at 12:01 am / Updated at 12:43 am
NFL
'Dirty' label could make Suh poor for endorsements

In the commercial, Ndamukong Suh stands next to an open grill, holding tongs as he describes the joys of eating meat.

"Whether it's a tailgate or a cookout with family and friends," Suh says, "it's all good when serving up legendary Omaha Steaks."

Suh's physical talents, unique pedigree and eloquent delivery have made him a superstar at age 24. But after Suh was ejected on Thanksgiving Day for stepping on a Green Bay Packers offensive lineman, his image is under fire. And the Detroit Lions star's status as a marketing tool is at risk.

"The impact of his actions are going to cost him both on and off the field," said Paul Swangard, director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon.

Suh's corporate sponsors include Nike, which released a statement to The World-Herald Monday night: "The incident (Thursday) has no impact on our relationship with Ndamukong Suh."

An Omaha Steaks spokesman said Monday the company is taking a "wait and see approach" regarding Suh.

An official statement elaborated, saying that Suh's actions last week "are of great concern ... While we certainly do not condone poor behavior, we have never known Suh to be mean-spirited and he has always demonstrated integrity in all our dealings with him.

"We continue to closely monitor and evaluate the situation and we will take action accordingly, if we deem it necessary. For now, it is business as usual."

The same can't be said for Suh, who is expected to receive a suspension from the NFL as early as Tuesday.

Since he emerged on the professional scene in August 2010, Suh has developed a reputation as a dirty player. His nine personal fouls during that span led the NFL. He was fined three times for a total of $42,500.

The heat on Suh has intensified since Thursday. Critics seized not only on Suh's ejection, but on his postgame explanation, when he denied stomping on Evan Dietrich-Smith. On Friday, Suh took a different tone, releasing a statement in which he called his action "unacceptable."

And according to a report by ESPN's Adam Schefter, Suh called NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Sunday to apologize for his on-field actions.

But the firestorm rages on. Seemingly every TV commentator and sports columnist in America has weighed in.

Mike Pereira, former NFL vice president of officiating and Fox Sports analyst, said Suh isn't dirty, "he's filthy."

The Detroit News Monday quoted a veteran high school coach saying his players look up to Suh.

"We already spend a lot of time trying to discipline our kids," said the coach. "Now it's things like this that force you to watch out for more bad habits and re-teach things you've spent weeks trying to straighten out."

The harshest words came from former Husker Matt Slauson, now a guard with the New York Jets. Slauson said Suh was "out of control."

"I know it takes a different type of person to be a defensive lineman," Slauson told the New York Post. "You've kinda got to be a jerk who wants to take the quarterback's head off. But you (shouldn't) literally want to kill them like he does."

One of Suh's agents, Eugene Parker, said it's hard to change anyone's mind when they form an opinion.

"People pick their sides and stick to it no matter what," Parker said.

Suh can't control his image, Parker said, only his actions.

"He apologized. He owned up to it. He said he was committed to doing better," Parker said.

Popularity isn't defined by endorsement contracts, but they are a gauge of public opinion. There's an old adage — all publicity is good publicity. But it's hard to find positives from the Thanksgiving Day incident, which happened on one of the biggest stages of the season, said Swangard, the sports marketing expert.

Swangard expects current sponsors to "ratchet down" their marketing of Suh in the short term. When they reach the end of their contracts, they'll take a hard look at Suh's popularity. As for potential future sponsors, Swangard suspects any negotiations are "probably done for now."

Sometimes a player makes a mistake on or off the field that doesn't harm his marketing potential, Swangard said. But in Suh's case, "there's a body of work here that certainly raises into question whether brands would want to risk their own equity."

Sports marketing is about perception as much as reality, Swangard said.

"I think most fans perceive his actions as inappropriate," Swangard said. "It's that perception that brands need to be monitoring most closely, because if fans have a negative view of the athlete that these companies have aligned with, then there's no purpose in having that deal to begin with."

How does Suh rebuild his image?

It starts with coming clean, Swangard said. Apologizing for mistakes. Admitting a problem.

Pro athletes have repaired their images from far worse publicity, Swangard said.

Look at Ray Lewis, who was charged with double murder in 2000 (he later pled guilty to obstruction of justice). Now Lewis is perhaps the most recognizable defensive player in the NFL — and a fan favorite.

Suh has the same opportunity to restore his image, Swangard said.

"If he plays it the right way, he could come out of this being one of the dominant defensive stars of the league for the foreseeable future. And there's ample financial opportunity behind that."

Contact the writer:

402-649-1461, dirk.chatelain@owh.com

twitter.com/dirkchatelain

Contact the writer: Dirk Chatelain

dirk.chatelain@owh.com    |   402-649-1461    |  

Dirk Chatelain is a staff writer for The Omaha World-Herald and covers Nebraska football and general assignments.

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