May 5, 2014 at 1:13 pm

Terry Foster

Why did Lions fans cut Barry Sanders a break, but not Ndamukong Suh?

While Barry Sanders wasn't criticized for missing voluntary workouts back in the day, Ndamukong Suh has been blasted by the Lions fan base. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)

Retired Lions players Herman Moore and Lomas Brown have been through the turmoil of a high-profile teammate refusing to attend voluntary mini-camp and practices.

The difference is people accepted Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders skipping camp. Most do not accept current Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh doing the same thing.

While Sanders skipped practices with the blessings of his head coach and the organization in the 1990s, Suh is making national headlines and does not have the same support from teammates and the franchise.

Here is the difference. Teammates and the public loved Sanders. The same cannot be said about Suh, who is a polarizing figure. Some guys in the dressing room like him. Others do not. Suh has forced the fan base to become hypocrites. The same fan based that defended Sanders is the same one attacking Suh.

I wrote columns criticizing Sanders for missing mini-camp. People told me to leave Barry alone. I made the same arguments against Sanders that you criticize Suh for. He was a high-profile player in the dressing room that teammates looked up to and asked to lead more.

He did not.

Overblown?

Brown said Lions players are breaking an unwritten rule of brotherhood. He believes some of this drama surrounding Suh has to do with money. Suh is either bucking to make big money here or somewhere else.

Suh also appears to be a guy that wants out. That does not set well with Detroiters.

“I think it is overblown, to be honest with you,” Brown said. “I don’t think he’s got a whole bunch of guys advocating for him in that locker room. That seems to be one of the biggest differences with him. They shouldn’t be mad. There is an unwritten rule that you don’t get in the way of a man and his money. When it is time for him to get his money, you are supposed to understand that.

“Players need to understand all the things they (an organization) can do to you. Guys are supposed to understand that is an unwritten rule. That’s all.”

Moore, meanwhile, said teammates left Sanders alone because they believed in him. There was no controversy and players didn’t talk much about it.

“We always knew Barry would come in prepared,” Moore said. “We knew it was voluntary and we took it as much.”

Sanders was an unassuming player that was likeable in the dressing room. He rarely ruffled feathers until he walked out on the team after 10 years. He supported teammates and became angry when he believed some of his guys were getting jerked around by management during contract talks.

That earned trust and support. Would Suh ever do the same? I doubt it.

I do come with advice for Suh. If he wants to stay here, he must reach out and win over his dressing room. I’ve run into a couple guys this summer and they did not have a lot of nice things to say about him. And both only asked for one thing: They want him to drop the “me” talk and turn it into “we” when all of the guys are in the privacy of the dressing room. Suh must meet with guys and ask how he can become a better teammate.

If he does that and made it clear he wants to be here, then he has a chance. Right now, he is a distraction.

What's the difference?

Many in the public screamed to trade Suh after he skipped voluntary workouts. Some fans view it as a slap in the face to new coach Jim Caldwell and his staff.

That is going overboard, but I will admit I do not understand the man. A few days after missing the second set of voluntary workouts, he showed up at the practice facility and met with coaches. So maybe it is a sign he wants to work things out here, or maybe he simply wants to do it on his time.

“I understand (why people are upset),” Moore said. “But this is voluntary and not mandatory. It is what it is. There is an unwritten word that you should be there. I believe football players should be there if they are able to. I tried to make it as often as I could, but at the same time I am not going to criticize a guy if he is not going to come.

“He has that right.”

Suh has the right just as Sanders did back in the day. The message is entirely different from the public. Back then, the people said leave Barry alone. Today, the mob wants Suh’s head on a platter.

terry.foster@detroitnews.com

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