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It's been a rough offseason for the Steelers, but let's not get carried away.
James Harrison, the hard-hitting linebacker of the Pittsburgh Steelers that’s been the center of attention the past two days, took to his Facebook page to offer up an explanation and apology about the comments attributed to him in a Men’s Journal article published Wednesday. Since I’m sure Mr. Harrison wants all to read his take on the situation, I’ll take the liberty of posting the note in its entirety.
This statement will be my only response to the Men’s Journal article.I’ll start by offering my apologies for some of the words that I said during the four days in May that Men’s Journal was invited to my house to discuss what the NFL has recently been portraying as their attempts at ‘player safety’ rules and regulations, and to cover my everyday workout routine.
I did make comments about my teammates when I was talking about the emotional Super Bowl loss, but the handful of words that were used and heavily publicized yesterday were pulled out of a long conversation and the context was lost. Obviously, I would never say that it was all Ben’s or Rashard’s fault that we lost the Super Bowl. That would be ridiculous. Both Ben and Rashard are great players and great teammates. Clearly the entire team bears responsibility for the loss, me included. It was a team effort and a team loss. My teammates know me well, and hopefully understand the things I said were not meant to accuse them of the loss. We all have discussed several things that went wrong in the Super Bowl since that day. What I do apologize for and take full responsibility for is for speaking in such a candid manner to someone outside the team.
I also need to make clear that the comment about Roger Goodell was not intended to be derogatory against gay people in any way. It was careless use of a slang word and I apologize to all who were offended by the remark. I am not a homophobic bigot, and I would never advocate intolerance of gay people.
As far as the photo that was shown on air yesterday, collecting guns is a hobby of mine, and I advocate the responsible use of firearms. I believe in the right to bear arms. I like to go to the shooting range. I like to hunt. I like to fish. I could just as easily have posed with my fishing poles but it obviously wouldn’t be an interesting picture for the magazine. I am not promoting gun violence by posing for that photo. There are also other photos in the magazine story that were not shown on air yesterday – including me with my sons, with my mom and as a kid.
Unfortunately, the above items and other comments have detracted from the original purpose of the story – a position I have been advocating for some time now. If player safety is the NFL’s main concern, as they say it is, they are not going about it in an effective manner. There’s nothing about extending the season or issuing exorbitant fines on defensive players that makes any shift toward the prevention of injury to players.
I believe that the league may have been feeling increasing pressure about injuries and concussions last year, and that they panicked and put rules in place that weren’t fully thought out. I’m not advocating more flags and fines, I’m just saying that the current rules are not completely fair, and I don’t believe in the way that the league is handling their position as overseer of the NFL and the well-being of its players.
As far as the character and reputation hits I may suffer as a result of my comments in the article, I’ll take those hits and more if it brings increased attention to the re-examination and installation of rules and regulations that would create a REAL impact on player safety.
Well said and timely, but not too timely. By that I mean Harrison probably did himself a favor by not rushing to comment on the matter. He took responsibility for his inappropriate use of a homophobic slur, and he apologized for mentioning his teammates in any sort of way that could have been misconstrued. Like I’ve said before the past two days, this will pass without much consequence once we finally have some football to stew over.
Before I go, I can’t wait for the first set of reporters to breach Harrison’s request to not talk about this matter again. Should be fun to see his response. Then again, he might be out of do-overs for the time being, meaning he hopefully will just say no comment and nothing else when he’s inevitably hounded about this in the weeks to come.
What a week it’s been for the six-time Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Not for good reasons though. Hines Ward’s DUI arrest in his native Georgia last weekend was the first piece of unfortunate news, though that was quickly forgotten about Wednesday after Men’s Journal published excerpts of an interview with James Harrison. The 2008 Defensive Player of the Year went on such a tirade against commissioner Roger Goodell that most folks didn’t take too much umbrage with outside of Harrison calling Goodell a homophobic slur. It was Harrison’s comments about Ben Roethlisberger and Rashard Mendenhall — and how their costly miscues in SB XLV cost the Steelers a title — that fans and the media jumped all over.
I’m inclined to believe that this won’t be much of an issue for the team once they finally reconvene and begin their 2011 season together in earnest. And I agree that Mike Tomlin is the right man to squelch this fire before it burns out of control inside the team’s locker room. Teammates don’t need to universally love each other, they just need to play hard for one another really. And I don’t think there’s too many scenarios in which each of the 53 men who make the Steelers roster in 2011 will be playing at anything less than maximum effort.
One of Harrison’s teammates, Lawrence Timmons, was quick to come to Harrison’s defense. Speaking with TSN in Toronto not long after the Men’s Journal article broke, Timmons spoke of the close relationship he has with Harrison and how Deebo as his teammates call him (in reference to the bully in the movie Friday) is often misunderstood. Here’s a few excerpts from the interview courtesy of SportsRadioInterviews.
On what Harrison is like as a person and a teammate:
"James Harrison is a big part of my growth. After my rookie year, I had a tough rookie year, and during the summer I worked out with him the whole time. And he basically just taught me how to work and how to be an athlete in this business. He was just substantial to my career and I look up to the guy and admire him. I have just nothing but the best things to say about him."
If he thinks that Harrison might have been baited into his comments or if something perhaps prompted him to say what he did:
"Yeah, I’m sure it was something. But James is a guy that’s misunderstood. A lot of people think he’s a bad person, but he just sometimes says some things that he shouldn’t. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t feel this way, he probably just got kind of mixed up with his words. But he’s a great guy."
If Harrison is actually the tough, scary guy that his image projects:
"No he’s not. He’s a great father, he does a lot in our community, he’s a Pittsburgh Steeler, we accept him, and I have nothing but the best things to say about him."
If there’s any feeling of embarrassment from an organizational standpoint when Harrison sheds negative light on the team like that:
"That’s a tough question, but it’s a very tough spot to be him. James, like I said earlier, he’s not the best with words sometimes, he’s definitely misunderstood at times. He loves the Steelers, I’m pretty sure he loves Rashard and Ben, they always do like a little celebration than everybody else before the game. I’m pretty sure he does have a bit of fire towards Goodell because of the fines. That was a bit unfair I thought because they don’t have a limit on the fines they give, and they just came up with fines and gave it to the guy and I felt like that was very unfair."
Jason La Canfora of NFL.com says that after James Harrison’s rants in Men’s Journal regarding Roger Goodell, Ben Roethlisberger, Rashard Mendenhall, and a host of other topics, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is just the man to clean up the mess.
Tomlin has done a tremendous job shepherding his team through what have been tumultuous offseasons. He commands universal respect throughout the Steelers’ locker room, and he’s direct and unequivocal in how he addresses situations like this. Tomlin also has a long history with Harrison and knows the linebacker well, so he’s uniquely equipped to handle this drama.
Right. I’ve listened to a fair amount of talk radio on this topic, and I don’t think too many people in Pittsburgh are concerned about potential damage Harrison’s comments might do in the Steelers’ locker room. To the extent that there’s concern, it’s mostly about what the NFL’s reaction will be.
The La Canfora piece, by the way, compares Harrison to former Red Sox, Indians and Dodgers slugger Manny Ramirez, which is a good analogy. When asked about Harrison’s comments about him, Mendenhall waved them off, saying, “I know him.” It sounds like the Steelers know not to take Harrison’s comments too seriously. Now, Roger Goodell, on the other hand …
For more on the James Harrison brouhaha, stay tuned to this storystream.
Paul Solotaroff, who wrote the Men’s Journal article on James Harrison that has gotten so much attention since Wednesday, says that not only did he speak to Harrison about the article and Harrison expressed no problems with it, but that there was more to Harrison’s opinion on Ben Roethlisberger that didn’t make it to the article.
Solotaroff said, first “I’ve got way more about Roethlisberger on the cutting-room floor here,” then goes on to say that Harrison isn’t the only Steeler who has a problem with Big Ben.
He said, “There isn’t a single Steeler on that defense who has a poster of Big Ben on his bedroom wall, if you know what I’m saying. There’s a real schism on that team” between offensive and defensive players.
Solotaroff went on to imply that at least part of that schism is related to the way fines have been handed out to defensive players recently, and that similar schisms probably exist on other NFL teams.
I doubt we’ll hear much more about this – even if there really is a disconnect between the Steelers’ offensive and defensive players, they aren’t about to let this get further in the press than it already has.
For more on the Steelers, check out Behind The Steel Curtain.
Joe Starkey notes the image problems the Pittsburgh Steelers have been having recently, of which James Harrison's recent Men's Journal interview is only a small part. Yes, many of Harrison's comments were really bad, but in the broader scheme of things, one might argue that, hey, at least they distracted us from Hines Ward's DUI arrest just a few days before.
And that's not all! There's also Ben Roethlisberger's much-publicized sexual-assault problems, Santonio Holmes, and (much less seriously) Rashard Mendenhall saying really stupid stuff about Osama Bin Laden. This isn't a high-character team, and I'm not sure how anyone can argue that it is.
Does that reflect poorly upon the Steelers? In the cases of Harrison, Ward and Mendenhall, probably not. (Roethlisberger is another story, and one I won't go into here, except to say that my opinion on him probably puts me in the minority among Steelers fans. In any case, the debate about Roethlisberger has been argued into the ground in the past year.)
Harrison isn't a dirty player, and he was unjustly made the focus of the NFL's war against high hits. The things he said in the Men's Journal interview are extremely stupid, and in some cases incredibly insensitive, but I'm not sure they make him a bad person, just an ignorant one. Ward very probably drove drunk, which is inexcusable, but before that he had been a positive force off the field. And Mendenhall was mostly just guilty of voicing some bizarre opinions.
They take 10 plays out of 4,000 snaps and want to know my thought process on each. What I tried to explain to Goodell, but he was too stupid to understand, is that dudes crouch when you go to hit them. With Massaquoi, my target area was his waist and chest, but he lowered himself at the last possible second and I couldn't adjust to his adjustment.
And then some of them are just wildly ill-advised. The anti-gay slur that we heard about Thursday morning turns out to be Harrison calling Goodell "f**got Goodell," which is really offensive and just an extremely stupid thing to say, with or without the press around.
Elsewhere, Harrison calls Clay Matthews "all hype," calls Rodney Harrison "the dirtiest player ever," and says that Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau continued to encourage his players to hit players high even after the NFL started handing out fines for hits near the helmet.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter has a series of tweets that explain that James Harrison has spoken to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger about controversial comments Harrison made about Roethlisberger in the upcoming issue of Men’s Journal.
Roethlisberger says that Harrison is claiming that “the writer twisted many of his comments,” and that he was not trying to criticize Roethlisberger.
Basically, that’s exactly what I expected Harrison to say – ‘Hey man, I got taken out of context.’ That’s probably not true, but it’s the defense of every interviewee who says something they wish they hadn’t.
Men’s Journal quoted Harrison as saying that Roethlisberger should “stop trying to act like Peyton Manning” and that Roethlisberger isn’t Manning, but merely gets a salary similar to Manning’s.
Roethlisberger, for his part, says he has no problem with Harrison and believes he is telling the truth about being taken out of context.
Men's Journal has just published a series of inadvisable comments from James Harrison, who attacks NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (unsurprising) and Ben Roethlisberger (surprising). You can read excerpts of the article here.
"But up until last year, there was no word of me being dirty — till Roger Goodell, who’s a crook and a puppet, said I was the dirtiest player in the league. If that man was on fire and I had to piss to put him out, I wouldn’t do it. I hate him and will never respect him."
Harrison also uses a gay slur to describe Goodell and says that if the Steelers had won last year's Super Bowl, he would have suggested that Goodell start his own flag football league. He also suggests that Goodell uses fines to protect white players rather than black ones.
Elsewhere, Harrison blames Roethlisberger for performing poorly in the Super Bowl last year, saying that Roethlisberger should "stop trying to act like Peyton Manning."
Harrison also calls running back Rashard Mendenhall a "fumble machine."
It's no particular surprise that Harrison thinks these things. What's surprising is that he said them to a journalist. They remind me of John Rocker's racist and homophobic comments in Sports Illustrated a decade ago. Harrison's comments aren't nearly as offensive, obviously (with the caveat that I haven't yet seen the anti-gay slur), and some of them aren't offensive at all in a political sense; they're just likely to get him in trouble with his teammates and with the commissioner. But most people who have beliefs that could get them in serious trouble have the sense not to mention them to someone capable of distributing them to the entire world. One has to wonder how this journalist got Harrison to say these things.
The comments about Roethlisberger and Mendenhall are especially strange. These are players with whom Harrison is going to have to share a logo and a locker room.
The Steelers have released a statement on Harrison from Art Rooney II, who says that the Steelers will deal with Harrison's comments when the lockout is over.
Mendenhall said he hasn't taken offense to Harrison's comments because "I know him." Perhaps Mendenhall is just feeling sympathetic after his own offensive comments about 9/11 became big news a few months back.
Harrison says that the Steelers would have won another Super Bowl for the 2004 season if it hadn't been for the New England Patriots stealing signals in the AFC Championship Game.
Harrison does have nice things to say about Troy Polamalu, who he says is "spiritual and lives it like he talks it."
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