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Friday, October 3, 2008
Black and Blue all over: Harris speaks

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Chicago defensive tackle Tommie Harris cleared up some of the mystery surrounding his one-game suspension Thursday, telling the Chicago Tribune that a baby he fathered out of wedlock "has weighed on me" and "really affected my professional life."

Harris admitted he has not been fully committed to his job but disagreed with coach Lovie Smith's decision to suspend him for Sunday's game at Detroit. Officially, the Bears issued the discipline because he was late to a rehabiliation appointment.

Here is Harris' response to Smith's decision:

"If I'm not coming to treatment or if I'm not doing all these other things, my approach if I [were a coach] would be, 'What's going on? Is everything OK? I wouldn't punish him and think that this punishment is going to help him. I would try to help this player. Suspending me is not going to help my [personal] problems. You actually just put more on what I'm going through."

The child was born prematurely Sept. 14, the day the Bears played at Carolina. Harris attended the delivery and joined his teammates in Charlotte prior to the 1 p.m. ET kickoff.

But the birth apparently is only one of several problems Harris has had. Both the Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times reported Harris argued with Smith over the release of receiver Mark Bradley.

The Bears have indicated Harris would rejoin the team Monday, but you have to wonder if a four-day absence will rectify all of the issues surrounding their best defensive player. There should be a significant clearing of the air between Harris and Smith before everyone moves forward.

The suspension was almost out of character for Smith, but as the Tribune's David Haugh writes, it was an important display of authority from a coach who is sometimes viewed as too forgiving.

Brad Biggs of the Sun-Times, meanwhile, adds an important element to the story: The suspension all but assures Harris won't meet a set of contract qualifiers that fully maintain a bonus due in 2012. The Bears owe Harris an $8 million bonus that year, but it reduces by $1.5 million for every season that he doesn't make the Pro Bowl and play in 74 percent of the team's defensive plays.

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