Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Nov. 29. Here's one of the nominations for that honor by an SI writer.
Yes, he is a great football player: he was the most dominant player in college football last year and has been this year's most dominant and dazzling NFL rookie. Yes, he is on his way to becoming one of the game's great defensive linemen -- maybe even one of the game's alltime greats.
But that's not why Ndamukong Suh is my Sportsman of the Year. Suh is my Sportsman because, as the city of Detroit is finding out, he is much more than a great football player. Suh is my Sportsman because of everything he has already given back in his bright, young career.
At Nebraska's spring game in Lincoln last April the sun shined brightly on Memorial Stadium as the crowd of 77,393 rose to their feet and cheered when Suh's massive, smiling mug appeared on the stadium big screen. The beloved former Cornhusker then made a stunning announcement: he was pledging to donate $2.6 million to the university, the largest charitable contribution ever from a former athlete. It was a staggering amount, given that Suh hadn't yet signed with the team that picked him second in the 2010 draft, the Detroit Lions. It was also unprecedented: no athlete had ever given back so much to his alma mater before singing a professional sports contract. "I didn't feel like I had to, but I definitely wanted to give back to the university that gave me so much," Suh said.
Suh --- who led all defensive tackles in sacks and at the NFL season's midpoint was on pace to equal Jevon Kearse's record for sacks by a rookie lineman --- is a terror on the field and a gentle giant off it. A Detroit Free Press columnist recently recalled the time he was at his son's football practice and Suh, friends with one of the other dads, happened to show up. Suh told the kids he'd be there for their playoff game, and a few weeks later there he was, with hot dogs and hot chocolate for the 10 year olds.
The kids in Detroit have a role model now. And now, because of the Ndamukong Suh Scholarship at the University of Nebraska, out of state students like the ones from Suh's old high school, Grant High in Portland, have a real chance at an education at the UNL College of Engineering. Now, because of Suh's $2 million donation to Nebraska's strength and conditioning program, the university's athletes can train in state of the art facilities --- already, thanks to Suh's gift, there's a massive new polar tank in the football locker room and every football player has an iPad mounted into his locker.
The son of an engineer from Cameroon and an elementary school teacher from Jamaica, Suh could have gone pro last year but returned for his senior year to complete his engineering degree. He signed a fat $68 million contract with the Lions in August but showed where his heart is with his unprecedented charitable act. Ndamukong Suh may just be 23, but already he is a model of what every pro athlete should be.
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