The proclaimed meanest player in the National Football League has stirred the Steeler Nation and the NFL, and probably the Vatican into a frenzy. Why are we surprised at this? Should we be surprised?
Harrison has long been known for his leave it on the field, play old school, and don't worry about what anyone thinks of him, attitude. It's something to be admired by anyone who can appreciate what the NFL is about. His abilities and dedication to his craft are second to none; you'd be hard pressed to find anyone, Steeler fan or not, that would say he's not the best or one of the best, period.
The news broke this morning about an article in Men's Journal magazine in which James does an extensive interview with writer Paul Solotaroff. The article titled Confessions of an NFL Hitman, which was originally done around May of of this year is now being released in the August 2011 issue. I would highly recommend picking up a copy of the magazine and reading the entire article to draw your own conclusions after seeing the whole story. It gives you a very interesting look into the life of one of the toughest guys to ever hit the field. To Mr. Solotaroff's credit, it's a very good read, although James himself may take issue with some of it. In fact, he was on ESPN tonight and said that he has been flooded with calls from NFL players who have given James credit and support for saying what everybody else thinks but haven't had the guts to say. Make no mistake, Roger Goodell is hated among NFL players almost as much as he is among the fans. So if you think that Harrison's comments reflect his own opinions, you might want to think again.
Harrison unloads on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, and the NFL, as well as various teammates including Ben Roethlisberger and Rashard Mendenhall. James refers to the commish as a "crook, the devil, and a dictator". In regards to his reputation as a being a "thug": “My rep is James Harrison, mean son of a bitch who loves hitting the hell out of people,” he says. “But up until last year, there was no word of me being dirty — till Roger Goodell, who’s a crook and a puppet, said I was the dirtiest player in the league. If that man was on fire and I had to piss to put him out, I wouldn’t do it. I hate him and will never respect him.”
He also goes on criticize running back Rashard Mendenhall, calling him a "fumbling machine". His comments on Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger seemed to stir the most ire among Steeler fans when he said "You're not Peyton Manning, you know it man, you just get paid like him" (referring to Ben's interception deep in Steeler territory in the Super Bowl). Ben has since said that he talked to Harrison this morning (James called Ben) and the 2 are fine, stating that James told him the comments were taken out of context and not meant to insult him. Rashard Mendenhall also tweeted that he doesn't have a problem with Harrison because he knows him.
The "trade James Harrison" and "unload the dead weight" chants have already started among some. We all knew that was coming like 2 freight trains on a collision course. As soon as a Steeler player does something controversial people start calling for their heads on a platter. What Harrison did is not the traditional "Steeler way" of going about your business, but Harrison is not your traditional type of Steeler player. He's the best of the best, but in similar fashion to guys like Joey Porter and Greg Lloyd, he will say what he wants to whomever he wants, and that's that. If you don't like, so what! So why are we surprised at these comments? I will admit they took me back this morning as I was getting ready for work and while checking the latest news I saw this come across the wire. As the day went on and the social media outlets were in full gear I thought more and more about it. This is who he is, he speaks his mind honestly. He won't hold back for anyone. If you analyze what he said, how much of it was really wrong?
The comments calling Roger Goodell a dictator are spot on, most fans regardless of affiliation can agree with that. Now the gay slurs, that is unacceptable. You tread in dangerous waters going down that path to say the least. The comments about Goodell being the devil and a crook; well let's just say none of us actually thinks that James believes Goodell is the real devil or a real crook now do we? Harrison's agent, Bill Parise, calls it "bravado". Clearly this is Parise trying to help diffuse the situation which escalated to epic proportions since it hit the media.
A lot of it is bravado," Parise said. "I think people have to be careful not to read that and think those statements are anything more than expressions of feelings, particularly in regard to the commissioner. The commissioner fined James $100,000 last year. What do you want him to say, he's my best friend? James is a tough individual and that's the type of language he uses."
The comments about Roethlisberger's performance in the Super Bowl and Mendenhall's fumble problems aren't exactly old news. The main issue people have with it is the context in which it was said, not that he necessarily said it out loud. I'm sure the entire sideline gasped when those plays happened and similar thoughts went through the every players head even though nothing was ever said. It's only natural to react that way. We all know the interception he is referring too and the Rashard fumble were key turning points in the game.
The Rooney's have made a brief statement: “I have not yet seen the article in Men’s Journal nor have I spoken to James Harrison about his comments. We will discuss the situation at the appropriate time, when permitted once the labor situation is resolved.”
Since we are in the midst of the lockout still, the league and the Steelers can't really do much about Harrison's comments. I'm sure we'll hear from the Rooney's and coach Tomlin at some point. Perhaps a fine will be in order then, we'll have to wait and see. Suffice it to say that no one inside the confines of the organization is happy with the interview comments and for Harrison's sake it's good that we're in a lockout right now. Trading or releasing a guy like Harrison isn't going to solve anything in this writers opinion. With a player like James you take the good with the bad. The team knows it all too well. They don't like it but they deal with it. Harrison's "live weight" is worth more to the Steelers than his "dead weight" being released. You want a winner on the field, he is that. You want a competitor and a guy that gives you 100% every minute, that's Harrison. Say what you want about him but he's been a big part of the Steelers success since he became a starter. He's over 30 anyways and only plans on finishing out his current contract so releasing him makes zero sense.
Paul writes that Harrison intends to retire after his contract is up and pursue his other passion, real estate. Assuming James lasts the final 3 years of his deal it wouldn't surprise me one bit to see him follow through with that plan. Until then though, this is who James Harrison is, he shouldn't be released nor will he be. The Rooney's stand by their star players through thick and thin (Santonio Holmes was released, but remember the issues with Holmes were more criminal related than just magazine chatter), and while James may have a habit of making more thick moments than thin, he'll be here when the NFL 2011 season gets underway.