Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison stepped up his verbal assault on National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell, calling him a "crook" and "devil" among other insults, and also criticized quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for throwing two interceptions in the Super Bowl XLV loss to the Green Bay Packers.
Harrison, who was fined $100,000 by Goodell for late hits in 2010, made the comments in the August issue of Men's Journal magazine. His attack on Goodell reached a new venomous level when he said of the commissioner:
"If that man was on fire and I had to piss to put him out, I wouldn't do it," Harrison told the magazine. "I hate him and will never respect him."
Bill Parise, Harrison's Pittsburgh-based agent, tried to downplay the severity of the comments this morning when contacted by the Post-Gazette.
"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."
Parise denied a request to talk to Harrison.
Steelers President Art Rooney II issued a brief statement in response to a request for comment: "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."
Likewise, NFL spokesman Gerg Aiello said "we are not commenting on any aspect of the story."
In the article, Harrison uses an anti-gay slur to describe Goodell, and also refers to him as "stupid," "puppet" and "dictator."
If the Steelers had defeated the Packers in the Super Bowl, Harrison said, he would have whispered in Goodell's ear during the trophy ceremony: "Why don't you quit and do something else, like start your own league in flag football?"
"I don't think we should get caught up in his cultural language," Parise said. "I think people will read that for what it is and move on. I don't think anyone truly believes James thinks the commissioner is the devil."
Harrison, though, might have a hard time having his comments about Roethlisberger dismissed as easily.
Roethlisberger threw two interceptions against the Packers -- one that was returned 37 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter and another near midfield in the second quarter that led to Green Bay's third touchdown in a 31-25 defeat.
"Hey, at least throw a pick on their side of the field instead of asking the D to bail you out again," Harrison said about Roethlisberger. "Or hand the ball off and stop trying to act like Peyton Manning. You ain't that and you know it, man; you just get paid like he does."
Harrison, the 2008 NFL defensive player of the year, also criticized running back Rashard Mendenhall as a "fumble machine" for his costly turnover in the Super Bowl. In addition, he called former New England Patriots-turned-TV commentators Rodney Harrison and Tedy Bruschi as "clowns;" and said Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing is "juiced out of his mind," a reference to potential steroid use.
At least two Steelers responded with comments on Twitter.
Steelers safety Ryan Clark wrote: "He's just James! You know what you're getting" and "Nobody has to leave. We will all be in Pittsburgh. Brothers disagree, brothers fight, call each other names. You're still family! ALWAYS!
Mendenhall wrote: "I don't have a problem with what [Harrison] said because I know him."
Parise, though, also noted that his client made some serious points about what Harrison thinks are the league's misguided attempts to increase safety. He explains how non-guaranteed contracts make players more likely to hit high, because in the short term, a torn knee ligament is more costly than a concussion.
And Harrison suggests the real way to prevent head injuries is to shorten the season to 14 games, start offseason workouts later and trim the length of training camp so "we're not bangin' heads so much in August; that's where the brain trauma comes from."
"We should not lose sight of the fact James made some very good points, and very viable points, about guaranteed contracts and the length of training camp," Parise said.