Mike Tomlin has James Harrison's(notes) back. The Pittsburgh Steelers coach defends his star linebacker every time he's fined for a late, illegal or vicious hit. It happens quite often -- Harrison has been fined $125,000 so far this year -- so you'd imagine Tomlin has to work hard to come up with new justifications for why his player shouldn't be fined. His newest one: college tuition payments.
Though Harrison's children aren't yet in kindergarten, Tomlin told Alex Marvez of Sirius NFL Radio that the NFL should think of the kids before levying any new fines against the linebacker:
"We talk about the money like it's Monopoly money sometimes just because these guys happen to be professional athletes. [One-hundred thousand] is [$100,000], I don't care how much money you make. I take offense at times just in general how all of us talk about the money. He's got two kids. That's some serious college schooling right there potentially for those kids 16, 18 years from now."
Tomlin has a point. Between roster bonuses and salary, Harrison will make $3.55 million this season. The $125,000 in fines he's earned so far represent 1/28th of his salary. That's the equivalent of someone who earns $50,000 per year paying a $1,785 fine. Is that enough to force his kids to go to community college? Not unless he hired M.C. Hammer's financial adviser. However, it's still a fair percentage of a salary no matter which tax bracket you're in.
But -- and there's most definitely a but -- Harrison isn't an innocent in this. He's earned those fines for putting other players' lives and careers in danger. If Tomlin is worried about Harrison's two kids, what about the kids of those two Cleveland Browns players Harrison tried to decapitate earlier this year? They'd be much worse off if their father couldn't earn any money from football because some headhunting fool broke his neck.
There's a delicate line to tiptoe when trying to elicit sympathy for a millionaire athlete. Fans can put aside the absurdity of the dollars because of principle, but once you try to apply real-world examples to the plight of a guy who earned $16 million last year, you tend to lose Joe Pittsburgh. We sympathize with Derek Jeter because he's getting lowballed by the Yankees despite the fact that he's been the most visible, marketable member of the franchise since Mickey Mantle. We can support Darrelle Revis(notes) holding out in training camp to get paid; he's the best cornerback in the game who deserves to get what he can when he can.
But I'm supposed to cry for James Harrison because he gets avoidable fines that take a dent out of his $51 million contract? I'll save my outrage, thanks.