Cook: Steelers turn hatred into positive

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OK, so the deal is finally, officially, mercifully done. There will be labor peace in the NFL for the next decade. It's time for the Steelers defense to set aside its persecution complex and stop the moaning. It's time for football. The players want to turn their hatred for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell into something positive? How about going to Baltimore for the opening game Sept. 11 and imagining that Ravens Joe Flacco, Ray Rice and Anquan Boldin are Goodell. Now that would be productive.

There was no way the new agreement between the players and owners wasn't going to be ratified Thursday by the players. An estimated $12 billion-to-$14 billion annually was at stake for the two sides. Steelers safety Ryan Clark predicted Wednesday that Goodell's unlimited power with player discipline could be a "deal-breaker," but that was nonsense. Other teams might not like Goodell or his clout, but they weren't going to allow it to stop the agreement. "I never heard one other player really complain much," Steelers linebacker James Farrior acknowledged.

No, Goodell's power was a Steelers issue and a Steelers issue only.

It's a shame linebacker James Harrison and Clark allowed it to become so personal. Harrison sunk to calling Goodell a "devil" and a "crook" in a Men's Journal story, not to mention a despicable gay slur. Clark insinuated at training camp Wednesday that Goodell was a frustrated "Pop Warner" player looking to make a name for himself in the NFL.

Harrison and Clark are better than that. Instead of Harrison being recognized as one of the all-time great Steelers linebackers and Clark as a leader on one of the NFL's best defenses, they are perceived nationally as whiners. So is their defense.

That's sad.

"That's a battle we can't win," wide receiver Hines Ward said of the team's feud with Goodell.

Really, who among us as employees can win a battle with the boss?

Harrison's and Clark's tactics certainly didn't help the Steelers. Juvenile name-calling never works. Goodell came across as a bigger man Wednesday when the NFL Network reported he wasn't going to discipline Harrison even though the slur Harrison used merited it. It was so offensive that Harrison apologized for it twice.

But Goodell wouldn't be human if he didn't remember Harrison's viciousness. Do you think maybe he and his staff will be watching Harrison closely this season? There is little doubt they did last season after Harrison said of hard hits on the Cleveland Browns' Joshua Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi in a game in October, "I don't want to see anyone injured, but I'm not opposed to hurting anyone ... I try to hurt people." He explained he never tries to injure anyone seriously, but he isn't against knocking an opponent out of a game. Of course, all people remembered -- including those in the NFL office -- was, "I try to hurt people ... "

"I definitely felt like we were targeted as a team," Farrior said. "I especially felt that way about James Harrison. [Goodell] can do whatever he wants. I don't think that's fair. When you fine a guy $75,000, that's a lot of money."

That was Harrison's punishment for the hit on Massaquoi, later reduced to $50,000. That staggered the Steelers, who believed it was excessive, unprecedented and against the fine guidelines they had been given by the league. By the end of the season, Harrison was fined four times for $100,000.

It's hard to come up with a reason why the Steelers were targeted other than Harrison's "hurt" comment. The Rooneys pushed hard for Goodell to get the commissioner's job. The Steelers, arguably, are the NFL's marquee team. The league benefits when they are successful because their television ratings are astronomical.

Beyond that, do you really think the Steelers would have made it to the Super Bowl last season if Goodell had a vendetta against them? I don't believe that for one second.

Speaking of not believing something ...

"[Goodell and the owners] say they're concerned about players' safety, but it's all about the money," Farrior said. "They don't care about player safety. They want to add two games to the schedule. That's contradictory to player safety right there. They're just concerned about liability for players' injuries down the road. It's all about the dollars."

There were reports Thursday that Goodell's power will be at least minimally lessened in the new CBA with a possible independent arbitrator being used for appeals of drug-related suspensions. What impact that has on the league's fine system for illegal hits remains to be seen. Goodell will keep his unlimited power to discipline players for off-field discretions.

"I'm not going to hand off the brand or reputation of the NFL to somebody who is not associated with the NFL, I promise you that," Goodell said this week.

Said Farrior, "That doesn't have to be an issue. That shouldn't be an issue."

Rough translation:

"Stay out of trouble and you won't give Goodell the opportunity to pop you."

Farrior is the Steelers' unquestioned leader and one of the wisest players in the NFL. He says the team is ready to move on from Goodell, a good thing because that game in Baltimore is just 37 days away.

"We're going to play the way we always play," Farrior said. "We only know one way to play."

And if the fines from the NFL still come?

"We'll just do what we always do," Farrior said, grinning. "We'll bitch and moan and then we'll move in. That's all we can do."

Not just this season.

For the next decade.


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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