Armando Salguero

Ndamukong Suh opens up about background, fist fights, business, and yes, football

Ndamukong Suh sits down for wide ranging interview with The Herald.
Ndamukong Suh sits down for wide ranging interview with The Herald.

A sitdown conversation with Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh who does not typically make time for such things:

Q. I’ve heard you have interest in being a professional sports owner at some point, is that true?

A. Previously I looked at buying a soccer team in Croatia. I’m potentially looking at something in France right now. I started this May but it’s still in the first phase. There are a bunch of documents to read. There’s the translation piece as well, which makes it a little difficult. I took a little French so I know enough to be dangerous, but you have to cross all your Ts and dot your Is ... It’s still in the works. I’m obviously a person that loves things to happen immediately, as I imagine most people are. But it has to be done right so it takes time to go through all the due diligence. Over time it will hopefully be done. I’d love to be an owner of a team and I think the biggest reason why is I’ve been around organizations -- two now in the NFL -- and I go watch my best friend play basketball overseas and see how they run things. I’ve seen some of the best organizations and some of the worst ... Being able to have an influence on professional athletes and being able to put your own twist on things is interesting to me.

Q. You’re a first generation American. Your dad is from Cameroon and your mom is from Jamaica. What influences has the culture mix had on you?

A. It’s heavily affected me in all positive ways. Seeing them growing up and understanding and having been to both those countries and seeing how they grew up gives you great pride and at the same time understanding about how hard you need to work. I understand how hard it was for them to get here, how hard they worked to get here. I saw the work ethic. It’s a pride thing but the biggest thing for me is culture -- seeing how their culture is, how you carry yourself and approach things from a different perspective. People have the notion of American kids taking the easy way because everything’s kind of given to them. I look at myself as an American, without question, being born here and reaping the benefits of being an American. But at the same time I look at myself as a Cameroonian, as a Jamaican and so that combination of all three of those is what I embody -- the drive, focus, determination of all of them.

Q. Does your background have a lot to do with you not wanting to fail?

A. I’ve never wanted to fail because you don’t want to be a failure. But without question I think I have Cameroon on my back. I have Jamaica on my back. They look at me like I’m one of the people who has come out and is representing them and I need to hold them up. I went back to Cameroon and the ceremonies that took place, being my father’s son, and being royalty back there, without question I was held in high regard. I was named an ambassador in Ntankah, where my dad grew up. People don’t know these things. They talk about the pressure of football but there’s pressure of cities and countries behind you that are that much more important ... I don’t have a choice but to make sure I don’t mess up.

Q. Tell me where you’ve been, what’s your favorite place to visit and where would you never go back because you hated it?

A. I’ve been to Dubai, Bolivia and all these different places to see how people grow up or how they’re forced to live in a different way. Honestly, I think it would take way too long to mention all the countries I’ve been to. I’ve touched every continent except for Antarctica and Australia. I would say I enjoyed Israel probably the most as well as Barcelona. I’d say those are my top two. I’d also have to throw in Monaco because I was there for the Grand Prix. Amazing time there. And I wouldn’t say there’s any place I wouldn’t go back and visit. I say that from a standpoint of I learned something from wherever I went. Shanghai, I enjoyed my time there but it was definitely different. It wasn’t my most exciting trip that I went to.

Q. You turned 30 last January. How has that affected you?

A. I’m definitely not a kid anymore. I was dreading being 30 to be honest with you. Everybody has the excitement of doing the Dirty 30 and celebrating but I was preparing for a game on that Saturday to play the Steelers. I got a bunch of of birthday texts and I was in a bad mood because I thought, ‘I’m 30 now and all my 20s are supposed to be the great years.’ But now I embrace it...Being 30 was a turning point for me in maturing. Usually people aren’t successful until they get into their 30s. I was successful in my 20s, so it’s a challenge for me to find new ways to do that -- not only in football, in trying to win a championship but from other standpoints...I’ll do anything I have to to help all the guys around me be in the best position they can be because I need them to help us win a championship. That’s my ultimate goal for football. From a business perspective, ‘I want to sleep but I don’t want to sleep because I want to be successful in business.’ I want to be so aspirational in other things that unless I’m in hard core training, I really don’t sleep much. I stay up late working on different things. Obviously, I get functional sleep so I can get up the next day and go, but I try to push myself to the limits more. That’s been my new focus in turning 30.

Q Earlier this year you spoke about being an introvert during a press conference. It showed great self awareness. Where does that self awareness come from and how did you feel comfortable enough to talk about it?

A. “Honestly, it’s an amazing question. A lot of that self-awareness comes from not only my family, which is my mom, my dad and my older sister and seeing so much of myself in them. I look at them and can see where I fit in and what pieces I’ve pulled from my parents. But truly I equate it to my friends. I have very few, few and far between friends. I have two friends in Houston, both I went to college with, super close. And then my best friend who lives overseas 10 months out of the year but I talk to him four or five times a week. And then three other guys who live in Portland. We have group chats and our group chats are the most honest I’ve ever been part of. Sometimes it’s too honest because it gives you a true picture of who you are and how you’re viewed. The combination of my family and that small group of friends, the honesty and transparency that comes from there, that’s where the awareness comes from.

Q. It must be hard for an introvert to be in a profession where you get a lot of attention and you spend the day among 50 other guys. What challenges does that pose?

A. I think the challenges for me is always being comfortable with who I am. That’s the biggest thing I learned my first three years (in the NFL) which is when I had the most turmoil -- from 2012 through ‘14. It’s always about being comfortable with who you are and not changing because of how someone may look at you. For me, I’ve always been very strong headed. I’ve always been a person that’s very confident in who they are and why I do things a certain way.

Q. Have you ever been in a fistfight?

A. Unfortunately, yes.

Q. Many fistfights? And how did that go?

A. No, usually a lot of them were in reaction to things that have happened to me or things of that nature. But I try to diffuse first. My dad has always given me the rule of three. The first and second time, you have to be the adult. But that third time somebody comes after you, then at that point in time you do what you have to do.

Q. Ever lost?

A. I have never lost.

Q. What is the most fun you have that doesn’t involve football.

A. Outside of traveling, I love playing basketball. I love basketball. I enjoy it to the utmost. And then I’d say being around my friends.

Q. When your NFL career is over, you want people to think of Ndamukong Suh as what?

A. One of the most dominant guys at his position that changed the game from the respect that Reggie White changed the game, Bruce Smith changed the game, I’d say Warren Sapp as well. Ultimately, those guys put up amazing numbers. I think I have the ability to continue to put up good to elite numbers. I also would throw in there that teams have to game-plan for me, which isn’t common. And then I’d say, from a career standpoint, I want people to say I was business savvy. Without question.

Q. Jason Taylor once told me his one career regret was he didn’t enjoy the process. It was all about the chase and work toward a championship and because the championship never happened, he wished he’d enjoyed the little things more. Do you love the process or is some of it not fun?

A. No, I’ll be completely honest, I don’t enjoy the process. In my personal opinion, I think we could get so much more accomplished in so little time. But there’s also the understanding that for me, that’s possible. But there’s also [52] other players that might not be possible for. So that’s why I can accept this is why we have to do it this way. If you cater to the first guy and can’t bring along the 53rd guy, you can’t be successful ... I could watch half the film and be fine. I could watch no film all week, just go through practice and be fine for a game. But I know there’s other guys who can’t do that. So as a leader and a veteran, I have to go through that process to show these guys this is how it’s done so they could be prepared for the game. Honestly, I could watch no film, not even listen to the game plan. All I need to know is what the play calls are and what I need to do and then go through practice Wednesday and Thursday and I’d be good.

Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

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