Commentary

James Harrison's words dull his point

Steelers LB's language in ripping Goodell overshadows his criticism of commissioner

Originally Published: July 13, 2011
By Ashley Fox | ESPN.com

James Harrison does not look tough. He does not look like the meanest player in the NFL, the hardest hitter or the most feared defender.

He looks like an idiot. And he looks very, very bad.

I'm not sure what is the most offensive part of the spread on Harrison in the August issue of Men's Journal, out on Friday. The picture with the guns? The anti-gay slur? The utter disrespect for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell? Or the calling out of two of his Pittsburgh Steelers teammates?

[+] EnlargeJames Harrison
Mensjournal.comJames Harrison posed with two of his handguns for this photo that appears in Men's Journal.

It is all bad, and it overshadows the fact that Harrison does have a valid criticism, shared by other players in the NFL, of how Goodell went about fining players for illegal hits last season. There are players like Harrison who think Goodell unfairly targeted African-American players and fined certain players more than others. There are players like Harrison who think Goodell issued harsher fines for illegal hits on white players than for hits on black players. And there are players like Harrison who think Goodell had it out for certain players.

Harrison is the perfect person to speak on this subject, because Goodell took $100,000 out of his pocket last season, fining Harrison more than any other player. But because of his inflammatory language, Harrison lost any opportunity to make his point about the fairness of Goodell's system or to try to persuade Goodell to change it. He ripped Goodell, which was not breaking news, but he did so by using an anti-gay slur to describe the commissioner.

Using an anti-gay slur is just as unacceptable as using a racial slur. You don't have to be in support of gay marriage, but you cannot be intolerant. Gay slurs are not slang. They are hurtful, and the use of them has to stop.

Harrison also called Goodell "stupid," a "puppet" and a "dictator," and said that, "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 can hate Goodell all he wants. He can think Goodell is out to get him, is unfair and is unjust, but he needs to show Goodell respect, just as he needs to show his head coach, Mike Tomlin, respect and his position coach respect and the person who makes his lunch in the Steelers' cafeteria respect.

Playing football under a six-year, $51.175 million contract does not mean Harrison isn't still an employee. He is. There are rules, and there are consequences for breaking those rules.

Harrison said that if the Steelers had defeated the Green Bay Packers in the Super Bowl, he was going to whisper in Goodell's ear during the trophy presentation: "Why don't you quit and do something else, like start your own league in flag football?" Now that would have been classy, but Harrison did not get that opportunity. The Steelers did not win. Harrison did not take responsibility for losing the game, even though he had only one tackle the entire game, a sack of Aaron Rodgers where Rodgers essentially ran into him. He did not apologize for getting dominated most of the game by Packers tackle Chad Clifton.

Instead, Harrison ripped his quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, who did take responsibility for the loss after throwing two interceptions in the game.

"Hey, at least throw a pick on their side of the field instead of asking the D to bail you out again," Harrison said of Roethlisberger. "Or hand the ball off and stop trying to act like Peyton Manning. You ain't that and you know it, man; you just get paid like he does."

Harrison also called Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall a "fumble machine."

Rule No. 1 of being a good teammate is you do not publicly criticize a teammate -- ever. You keep that in house. Publicly throwing a teammate under the bus, particularly the quarterback, only serves to divide a locker room, and divided locker rooms do not produce championships.

Tomlin is a master at managing star players and their monster egos, and he will have his hands full with this one whenever the lockout ends. Harrison drew a line down the middle of the team, offense on one side, defense on the other. Tomlin will have to fix that.

The photo accompanying the article shows Harrison shirtless with his arms crossed holding two of his guns, reportedly an FN Five-Seven pistol and a Smith & Wesson 460V revolver. It is a ridiculous image for kids to see. Harrison is a professional football player and therefore, unfortunately, a role model for some children. In the picture he is promoting guns, as if he has never been to inner city Chicago or Detroit or Philadelphia and seen the devastation gun use causes.

Harrison is not some character in a video game or a movie. He is a name and a number and a man with influence and sway on young people. We don't need more young people on the streets with guns. We need less.

If he wants to own a gun, fine. That is his right. But don't pretend that a gun makes you tough. It does not. It makes you dangerous. There is a difference.

No one has ever questioned Harrison's toughness. But it is now fair to question whether he has a clue.

Ashley Fox covers the NFL for ESPN.com.