Cook: Harrison's remarks out of line
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Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall tweeted earlier this month that it's wrong to celebrate the death of another human being, even Osama bin Laden. That's OK. We live in America. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinions, even an NFL player.
Steelers linebacker James Harrison tweeted Wednesday that the people who make the rules in the NFL are "idiots" and said league officials are targeting the Steelers with their tougher player-safety rules. That's unacceptable. Forget freedom of speech in this case. Harrison, in essence, called his boss -- Steelers president Art Rooney II -- an "idiot" because Rooney voted for the rules changes. Beyond that, he violated the Mike Tomlin rule. "I'm not opposed to guys tweeting or facebooking or whatever they do," the coach has said. "Just don't tweet about my business."
I have no problem with Mendenhall's tweet.
I have a big problem with Harrison's.
For one thing, Harrison was wrong about the NFL targeting the Steelers. They weren't targeted last season when the St. Louis Rams led the league in penalties with 126 and the Steelers ranked 24th with 86, and the Oakland Raiders led in penalty yards with 1,161 and the Steelers were 25th with 716. The Steelers made it to the Super Bowl, which wouldn't have happened if the NFL had some sort of conspiracy against them. The Steelers also aren't being targeted now. The tougher rules are for the safety of all the players, including Harrison and his teammates. Sometimes, players need to be protected from themselves.
It also was incredibly arrogant on Harrison's part to suggest the new, more stringent rules are designed to take some of the toughness out of the Steelers' defense. He wasn't alone there. Teammate LaMarr Woodley tweeted, "lol im sorry that im not sorry we hit 2 hard." Like the Steelers are the only defense that hits hard? Try selling that opinion in Baltimore. Or New York. Or a lot of other NFL cities. Certainly, the Steelers' defense wasn't all that tough and intimidating against the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLV, was it?
In a way, it's understandable why Harrison feels targeted by the NFL office. He was fined $100,000 last season for what the league determined were dirty hits, more than any player. But Harrison needs to look in the mirror once in awhile. Maybe the reason he was fined so much is that he didn't play by the rules. Of course, blaming commissioner Roger Goodell and discipline czars Ray Anderson and Merton Hanks -- "who I now have absolutely no respect for," Harrison blogged Thursday -- is so much easier than blaming himself.
"I guess the NFL needed a poster child for their campaign," Harrison said in that same blog. "I know there are hits out there that go either way, but if it's me I already know which way they are going to go."
Calling Goodell and the others "idiots" is going to help that situation?
That can't possibly help Harrison and the Steelers.
That's what I mean about him violating the Tomlin rule.
Harrison blogged that he is "all for player safety," but then said later, "I love this game, but I hate what they are trying to turn it into."
Is it just me or is that contradictory?
This is just another case of Harrison overreacting. He did it in October after he was fined $75,000 (later reduced to $50,000) for a hit on Cleveland Browns wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi when he threatened to quit football. Like he was going to walk away from his $51.75 million contract? Harrison also did it at the Super Bowl when he used his media-day pulpit to mock Goodell. He came across sounding awfully foolish that day, especially when he was asked if he might not think differently about player safety if he's 50 and mentally disabled because of hits to his head that really weren't necessary for him to be known as a fierce player or for him to get that huge contract. "I'm not worried about that," Harrison replied. "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."
My guess is that Harrison doesn't feel so strongly about his principles that he will follow through with his retirement threat any time soon. That $51.75 million contract, remember? He will show up at Steelers headquarters, whenever the NFL lockout ends. He then will have two choices: Do a better job of adjusting to the new rules or continue to pay the big fines and, ultimately, be suspended.
Harrison is a tough character, as tough as any player in the NFL. But this is a fight he can't win. The league is too strong. The game is bigger than him, any player or any team.
First Published May 27, 2011 12:00 am