Column: In Defense of James Harrison

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As a Steelers fan, I’ll never understand why my team is so universally derided by basically every football fan in the country who doesn’t bleed black and gold. I’ve always just assumed that people were jealous of Sixburgh’s successes. Or it might be hard for some people, especially women, to root for a team quarterbacked by Ben Roethlisberger. But recently I’ve settled on this theory: they’re scared of us.
 
Even though we’ve moved away from traditional hard-running Steelers football and toward a more pass-heavy offense, our defense is still as tough and gritty as the Steel Curtain of the 70s. One of the faces of this new black and gold monster has been 2008 Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison, who is arguably still one of the top five linebackers in the NFL. Of course, if you’re like Roger Goodell, you probably think Harrison is a menace more interested in injuring his opponents than playing football.

To be fair, Harrison is a meathead. I didn’t realize how thick he was until he refused to visit the White House after the Steelers won the Super Bowl in 2008 because, and he actually said this: “If you want to see the Pittsburgh Steelers, invite us when we don't win the Super Bowl. So as far as I'm concerned he [President Obama] would have invited Arizona if they won [the Super Bowl]." Yeah, he’s not a smart man.
 
What he lacks in brains he more than makes up for in brawn. Harrison’s aggressive play style has turned him into the face of Goodell’s crackdown on helmet-to-helmet contact. Last year alone he was fined $125,000 for various hits, making him the most fined player in the NFL.
 
Then, last Thursday, Harrison made headlines again after a nasty helmet-to-helmet hit against Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy. Yesterday, the NFL slapped Harrison with a one-game suspension without pay, making him the first player suspended for a tackle since Green Bay Packers defensive end Charles Martin was suspended for two games after body slamming Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon in 1986.
 
 
For once, Harrison actually said something intelligent in his defense: “From what I understand, once the quarterback leaves the pocket, he's considered a runner. All the defenseless [ness] and liberties that a quarterback has in the pocket are gone and you can tackle him just as he's a running back. The hit wasn't late, so I really don't understand why it was called."
 
I never thought I’d say this, but Harrison is absolutely right. McCoy tucked the ball and appeared to be running before he threw the ball at the last second. The play wasn’t even flagged for unnecessary roughness, just a late hit (which replays have proven to be a bad call anyway). The issue here isn’t whether the play was dirty or not, but whether Harrison did anything wrong at all.
 
Goodell was probably as giddy as a schoolgirl when he saw that play, knowing that he finally had Harrison right where he wanted him. Suspending him was his way of trying to set an example of what can happen if…you continue to play the game of football the way it’s been played since its inception?
 
Football, at the end of the day, is a Contact sport,” said Bleacher Report’s Brian Stewart. “It is a sport where your objective, particularly if you are a defensive player, is to get the ball away from the other team, by whatever means possible. And in that process, players are going to get hit, and they are going to get hurt. There is a reason NFL players make the money they do. It's a high-risk environment. And you know what?  I'm willing to bet every NFL player knows that.”
 
Goodell needs to stop adding fuel to the argument that Harrison is a dirty player and the Steelers are a dirty team. We are a classy organization that knows the game of football. If other teams can’t take the hits we dish out, they shouldn’t bother showing up in the first place.
 
The thing is, like Stewart said, they can and do suit up every Sunday to play the Steelers. It seems like the only one who is actually afraid of the Steelers is Goodell (well, and Ravens fans naturally). This suspension is a joke, and the only one who is laughing is Harrison, who tweeted a “Lol!!!” shortly after his punishment was announced.
 
As dense as he is, even Harrison understands what Goodell is trying to do to his image and livelihood and can only laugh out loud at this ridiculous attempt to change him into a player he is never going to be and shouldn’t have to become in order to keep his job.
 
Photo: at www.wkyc.com

Junior > Journalism > University of Maryland

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