James Harrison delivered both barrels, reloaded, and delivered them again at NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and a slew of other people in the August issue of Men’s Journal. Goodell, the main target of his ranting, hasn’t done himself any favors with his treatment of players on the field playing the game the way they’ve played it since they were in Kindergarten. Harrison’s words weren’t even all that inflammatory. I mean who hasn’t thought their boss is the devil and a crook at least once in their working life? Even saying he wouldn’t piss on Goodell if the Commish were on fire wasn’t that bad. Was it in bad taste? Maybe. Does it make Goodell any weaker or less respected in the eyes of the other players? Probably not. His handling of the lockout is doing a better job of that. What his delivery did do is totally crush any potential good that could have come from his argument regarding Goodell’s handling of player punishment.
If he had concentrated his thoughts on the fact that football is a violent sport with a history of injury as well as how the Commish seemed to hand out punishments arbitrarily with what he and other black players perceived to be a racist slant, it would have hit a lot harder than either of the two handguns he was pictured with. “I slammed Vince Young on his head and paid five grand, but just touched Drew Brees and that was twenty. You don’t think black players don’t see this shit and lose all respect for Goodell?” That statement on its own is a cannon blast across the bow of the league’s player conduct policy. On its own, it would have made everyone; player, coach, owner, and NFL exec stand up and take notice. There would have been no way Goodell could have or would have remained silent on the issue. Changes in the conduct policy and its application may have even gained traction within the NFLPA in the collective bargaining negotiations. Too bad the way the diatribe was delivered ruined the good that could have come from it.
Harrison was the best candidate to deliver something so scathing in regards to how Goodell treats and punishes players who are flagged for “illegal hits”. Remember, he was fined $100,000 last season for illegal hits. Some of these hits aren’t even flagrant. These plays happen in less than the blink of an eye. It’s football. There is an inherent danger in playing the game. People are going to get hurt. The players have chosen to play the game. No one put a gun to their heads, no pun intended. They’re there on the field voluntarily. The risks have been explained. These men make millions of dollars. The players are more than compensated enough to take care of themselves.
Had the Steerlers won the Super Bowl in February against the Packers, Harrison was ready to tell Goodell “Why don’t you quit and do something else, like start your own league in flag football?” Yet another great way to deliver the message that football is a league of hard hits and physical play performed by highly trained, highly skilled athletes who are in the absolute best shape of any athlete in any sport. Goodell’s crackdown on defensive players hitting receivers and especially the rules towards quarterbacks has made the game akin to flag football. Again, this was a place where Harrison would have been the best person in the league to make such a bold statement.
Harrison had absolutely valid points to make but he screwed the presentation. His first mistake was the photo. The league, and sports in general, are still recovering from such issues as Pac-Man Jones, Tank Johnson, Plaxico Burress, and Gilbert Arenas just to name a few. The league’s trying to get rid of the gun culture and here is Harrison looking like a video game character. Stupid. Dumb. Asinine. Those are the first thoughts to cross my mind when I saw the photo. Whether Harrison wants to admit it or not, he is a guy on the field that others look up to and measure their game by. Whether he wants to admit it or not, he is a role model for younger players. He can say what he wants; that is his right. What he cannot do because of his celebrity and notoriety is pose in a photo that all but says it is ok to brandish multiple handguns. Does he really think kids won’t see that pic? Wake up!
The picture, however, was only his first mistake. He needed to leave his comments to Goodell. Had he done so, I think the picture could have eventually been overlooked and the larger issue of his words would have been the bigger story. The language is just too strong to ignore. The message is too important to ignore. Maybe something good could have come from this interview. Instead, Harrison made it a joke. Not just around the league and to fans everywhere, but in his locker room as well. You can’t put the cross-hairs on your own teammates and not expect repercussions. He took a shot at his running back, Rashard Mendenhall, who Harrison called “a fumble machine” since he had a fumble that lead to a Green Bay touchdown in the Super Bowl. Mendenhall also scored a touchdown and was the game’s leading rusher. He also had all of two fumbles in the entire regular season.
Worse yet, he pointed the larger barrel at his two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger. “Hey, at least throw a pick on their side of the field instead of asking the D to bail you out again. Or hand the ball off (writer’s note: To whom should he hand it off to? Remember you just called your running back a ‘fumble machine’) and stop trying to act like Peyton Manning. You ain’t that and you know it, man; you just get paid like he does.” Note to Harrison: Your QB has one more ring than Peyton does. He also has lead your team to one more Super Bowl appearance than Peyton has. Go ahead and try and defend that. I’d pay money to be in the room when you do.
Harrison’s line from the Super Bowl: One sack of QB Aaron Rodgers for a loss of 6 yards. Outside of that hit, Rodgers tore your defense, a defense Harrison supposedly leads, to shreds. Rogers was 24 of 39 for 304 yards and three touchdowns in the victory. He had all the time in the world to take a look around and admire Jerryworld before deciding where to throw the ball. It was up to Harrison to make life miserable for Rodgers and he couldn’t do it. Harrison’s teammates on offense did more to win that game than he did.
James Harrison is a very intelligent individual. He has a lot of good things to say about the game he loves and is so passionate about. He has commented on the Commissioner’s seemingly arbitrary decisions when it comes to levying punishments against players for various infractions. This interview could have been a fantastic chance to push that message again. There was no filter here, no editing, and no one from the league or the Steelers there to fine him or suspend him. If he had stuck to his guns and attacked Goodell for what he and others saw as a blatantly racist policy on punishing players and how these fines and suspensions in general have made it far more difficult for he and other defensive players to do their jobs, he’d have hit a home run. Instead, he shot himself in the foot.
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