Steelers linebacker James Harrison gave little reason for not wanting to join his teammates for their visit to the White House Thursday.
A well-placed source, however, later revealed the real reason for Harrison's reluctance to make the trip: He has a fear of flying and is a "wreck" whenever he must take team flights.
"Yeah, there's a lot of truth to that," confirmed Bill Parise, Harrison's agent. "When James was in college, his mother had to drive him to all the away games. That's the absolute truth. The transition for him into the NFL was real difficult at first.
"He can get on airplanes and fly, obviously, but he doesn't like to."
"Let me ask you a question," Harrison asked reporters who greeted him coming off the practice field today. "Why is it a big issue now that I'm not going if it wasn't a big issue the last time?"
Harrison, a backup linebacker for the Steelers when they won Super Bowl XL, did not join his teammates three years ago when they visited the White House of President George Bush.
However, his profile changed in four years. He was the NFL defensive player of the year and his 100-yard touchdown with an interception in Super Bowl XLIII was the longest play in Super Bowl history.
"Hey, James ain't changed," Harrison responded. "I guess my profile did but I didn't change. I'm not going because I don't want to go."
He added, seemingly in a joking manner, that the White House is not in the safest area of Washington, D.C.
"It's not a good neighborhood over there either," Harrison said. "It's a bad neighborhood."
Harrison said he was surprised at the reaction to his declining an offer to visit the White House.
"They're making a big deal out of this: 'Oh, my, James Harrison is not going to the White House, he must be a devil worshiper!'"
He said he will remain in Pittsburgh Thursday to "work out, run, get ready."