James Harrison has only himself to blame

December, 13, 2011
12/13/11
12:59
PM ET
James Harrison might be angry at the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell for the unprecedented one-game suspension, but the Steelers linebacker has only himself to blame.

His track record has made him the face for helmet-to-helmet hits in the NFL, and it's been a spiteful face.

In addition to four fines for illegal hits against quarterbacks in 2009 and 2010, Harrison also was fined twice for unnecessary roughness during that period. Harrison totaled six fines in that two-year period. He isn't just a repeat offender; he is the very definition of one on this subject.

[+] EnlargeColt McCoy
Charles LeClaire/US PresswireMedical personnel attend to Browns quarterback Colt McCoy on Thursday after a helmet-to-helmet hit by Steelers linebacker James Harrison.
Another hefty fine for hitting Browns quarterback Colt McCoy would serve no purpose. How do we know that? Because Harrison basically said so himself at last season's Super Bowl with tongue firmly placed in cheek.

"I don't want to hurt nobody. I don't want to step on nobody's foot or hurt their toe," Harrison said 10 months ago. "I don't want to have no dirt or none of this rubber on this field fly into their eye and make their eye hurt. I just want to tackle them softly on the ground, and if you all can, we'll lay a pillow down where I'm going to tackle them, so they don't hit the ground too hard ... Mr. Goodell."

Based on Harrison's comments, fines have made no impact and would never do so. Another one would have been a slap on the wrist. The NFL had to get Harrison's attention with a punch to the gut. That meant making him the first player to get suspended under the NFL's enhanced enforcement of player-safety violations.

Harrison's actions and lack of remorse forced this extreme punishment. The message is clear: Instead of going at the quarterback's head, think with your head.

Some might argue that this is severe because it's his first personal foul of the year. The 2011 League Policies for Players manual says that the NFL considers a three-year window when determining discipline. Harrison has been fined four times for hitting quarterbacks before this season.

Some think, like Harrison, that the hit was legal because McCoy was running with the ball before throwing it. The rules, however, protect a quarterback from blows to the head even if he throws on the run.

"Of course it was a penalty," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday after the suspension was announced. "We have to be accountable for that; he has to be accountable for that."

That's the key -- accountability. There's no doubt that every coach in this league would prefer to have Harrison on his team than to face him on Sundays. There's no questioning that Harrison is one of the most feared pass-rushers in this league.

The issue is whether he'll ever learn. That comes from accepting responsibility. That comes from hitting the right way on the field. Fines, obviously, have not worked. One year after getting a $75,000 fine on Browns receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, he lowered his helmet and hit McCoy with the crown of it.

The suspension was the right call. Under the circumstances, it was the only one.

Jamison Hensley

ESPN Ravens reporter

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