Steelers linebacker James Harrison has been fined $75,000 by the NFL for his helmet-leading hit that caused Browns wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi to receive a concussion. Harrison was not suspended.
Browns wide receiver Joshua Cribbs also sustained a concussion on a helmet-first hit by Harrison on a running play a few minutes before the Massaquoi hit. The Cribbs tackle was not reviewed by the NFL.
"It was a legal hit," Harrison maintained in an interview today with the Post-Gazette, before the fine was levied by the NFL, as did Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.
"All you have to do is look at the tape," Harrison said.
He said he was not aiming for Massaquoi's head and actually tried to pull off of him. He believes he's being targeted because of media opinion against him.
"If I get fined it's because anybody out there who has a camera in their face or a pen in their hand is writing their opinion and it's all the same. I just happened to be one of the bigger names who hit somebody last weekend."
The fine came as the league announced it would begin suspending players for dangerous and flagrant hits. Harrison was not penalized on the play.
The NFL also fined New England's Brandon Meriweather and Atlanta's Dunta Robinson $50,000 each for "flagrant violations of players safety rules" in games Sunday, according to a league statement($50,000)
In letters to each player, Ray Anderson, NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations, said: "Future offenses will result in an escalation of fines up to and including suspension."
The statement noted that Harrison is a "repeat offender", having been fined $5,000 for unnecessary roughness for roughing the passer in Pittsburgh's Sept. 19 game against Tennessee.
A handful of blows to the head in Sunday's NFL games prompted league officials to react, promising a crackdown with fines and/or suspensions for such hits. Harrison even cited the hit by Patriots defensive back Brandon Meriweather on Baltimore tight end Todd Heap as "a nasty hit."
"My hit was nowhere near the magnitude of that," Harrison said. "That was a nasty hit."
Meriweather was fined $50,000 by the league.
Harrison, a three-time Pro Bowl linebacker and the NFL defensive player of the year in 2008, said defenders like him can't win no matter where they hit a ballcarrier. Hit him high, the league wants to fine them; hit them low, and the offensive player risks a knee injury.
Such was the case in the 2009 season opener at Heinz Field when Harrison hit Tennessee tight end Bo Scaife so hard in the left leg that Scaife not only fumbled, but he did not return to the game. Scaife called the hit a "cheap shot." Titans coach Jeff Fisher, co-chair of the NFL competition committee that helps shape the rules, firmly said it was not an illegal hit.
"I hit him low and he ended up injuring his knee and was out for a number of games,'' Harrison said Tuesday. "I guess I'll end up having to take the fine and save someone's career."
Despite Scaife's outcry, Harrison said NFL players would prefer to be hit high than low and risk a knee injury.
"Ask any player in the NFL, they'd say that's dirty," Harrison said of a knee shot. "But the NFL says that's a legal play, but you can end his year if not his career. But if you hit him up high and give him a concussion or whatever, they fine you for it. Now you have to start hitting guys low, and what then?
"We've had enough rules on how to tackle a quarterback, now we have to worry about what a guy does at the last second. If he puts himself in harms way, now it's our fault."
Harrison said it's a frustrating dilemma for all defensive players.
"You can't go out and play like it's flag football," Harrison said. "If that's what they want to do, let's put flags on everyone. "It's a physical contact sport; some things are going to happen. You have to evaluate things and see it for what it is and not go on the reaction of people who can't see what they're really looking at."
Harrison's agent, Bill Parise, calls the fine "staggering" and said it will be appealed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.