Cook: Harrison's sarcasm crosses line

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ARLINGTON, Texas -- It might be the longest declarative sentence in the history of Super Bowl Media Day.

There's no doubt it was the most sarcastic.

"I don't want to hurt nobody, I don't want to step on nobody's foot and hurt their toe, I don't want to have no dirt or none of this rubber on the field fly into their eye and make their eye hurt, I just want to tackle them softly on the ground and, if y'all can, lay a pillow down where I'm going to tackle them so they don't hit the ground too hard, Mr. Goodell."

You don't think Steelers linebacker James Harrison is bitter, do you?

About the $100,000 in fines he received this season from the NFL office because of helmet hits that commissioner Roger Goodell and his staff believed were against the rules?

Bitter doesn't even begin to describe Harrison. "They took $100,000 out of my pocket," he said, glaring.

Using the pulpit he had on Media Day Tuesday at Cowboys Stadium, Harrison mocked Goodell at every turn. It was clear that was his intention from the start. He brushed off questions about making the greatest play in Super Bowl history when he returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown to help the Steelers beat the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII. "I don't really remember too much about it." Asked if he has watched the replay on television, he said, "I don't really watch sports. I watch cartoons." Asked if the play changed his life, he said, "It didn't change my life at all. It changed the outcome of the game, but that's really about it."

No, Harrison couldn't wait to get to the Goodell questions. He didn't have to wait long and went after the commissioner with the same ferocity he's expected to go after Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in Super Bowl XLV Sunday night. He talked of the league looking for "a poster boy" for its crackdown on helmet hits earlier in the season and "they just chose me because I was the most visible player." He said every decision the league makes is based on "whatever makes them more money." He said his trip to Goodell's office in New York in November for a meeting of the minds was "a waste of time. Nothing was really accomplished."

It was funny for a while, and you can argue that Goodell deserves all the scorn coming his way from the Steelers. The commissioner isn't popular with anyone in the organization after he unconscionably blind-sided quarterback Ben Roethlisberger by telling SportsIllustrated.com before the playoffs that "not a single player" came to Roethlisberger's defense during the NFL's investigation into a sexual assault allegation against him in March in Milledgeville, Ga. The story was released earlier this week, the worst possible time for the Steelers.

But Harrison went too far. His points would have had more validity if he didn't sound like such a fool with a few of his other comments. The most galling showed his cavalier disregard for the seriousness of head injuries in the NFL.

"I've had concussions at the pro level," Harrison said. "It wasn't bad enough to where I needed to come out of the game. I'll put it like this: If you don't tell [the medical staff], they don't know unless you get knocked out and you're laying there with your arms stuck in the air."

Nice, huh?

Medical research has linked concussions in football to brain disease, dementia and other maladies in players later in life. When asked if Goodell and the league are trying to protect Harrison from himself, Harrison scoffed, "I'm not worried about that. It's part of the game. We signed up for this. It's not a touchy, feely game. I've said it many times. I'm willing to go through hell so my kids don't have to."

It's admirable and honorable that Harrison is willing to do what it takes to support his family. Where he loses me is with his unwillingness to realize that one of his helmet hits could end another player's career and devastate that player's family. That's shameful.

Harrison was fined $5,000 for corkscrewing Tennessee quarterback Vince Young into the ground Sept. 19. The fine was deserved because it was a dirty play. Harrison was fined $75,000 for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Cleveland wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi Oct. 17. The league conceded that was excessive, reducing it to $50,000 in December.

Harrison talked of retiring after the Massaquoi hit, which seemed odd for a guy who wants to provide for his family. He said he met with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who sent him home from practice for a day to cool off. He admitted the retirement talk "wasn't well-thought out."

Harrison said he changed the way he played for a game or two but then realized it "wasn't conducive to me helping the team win." The fines continued to come. He was docked $20,000 for a hit on New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees and $25,000 for one on Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Both fines were legitimate because Harrison led with his helmet.

Harrison said he believes comments he made after the Cleveland game Oct. 17 contributed to the severity and frequency of his fines. "I don't want to see anyone injured, but I'm not opposed to hurting anyone," he said that day. "There's a difference. When you're injured, you can't play. But, when you're hurt, you can shake it off and come back. I try to hurt people."

Of course, all anyone remembered was, "I try to hurt people."

"I think that contributed to me getting fined," Harrison said.

That's what led to that comment about putting down a pillow to make for a soft landing in Cowboys Stadium.

It was funny, sure.

But it also was sad.

"I've had concussions at the pro level. It wasn't bad enough to where I needed to come out of the game. ... If you don't tell [the medical staff], they don't know unless you get knocked out and you're laying there with your arms stuck in the air."


Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com . Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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