Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Steelers' Offseason Drama, Part 1 - James Harrison, WTF???

As a contributor to Peanut Heaven, I will do whatever possible to write about all Pittsburgh sports, mainly the Steelers. I hope that I can do much more than I did before, but it will run the gamut. I think the first thing I should talk about is the Steelers' offseason, or lack thereof in terms of the NFL labor agreement, starting with Steelers' outside linebacker James Harrison. Just a couple days ago, James Harrison goes all out, literally, in an interview with Men's Journal and calls out NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, calling him a gay slur along with other names. Now, granted, Harrison has had beef with the commissioner last year, head-to-head hits being the main issue and Harrison has had to pay a hefty amount for the fines he incurred for harsh hits. A couple may be questionable, but overall, he was so upset by it he threatened to retire (which I found ridiculous). Now, this verbal attack was beyond nice. Honestly, he said he wouldn't save Roger Goodell's life. ESPN was at the ESPY's and two commentators even suggested WWE matches between Harrison and Goodell. Ironically, it feels like James Harrison is being a WWE wrestler and he sees Goodell as Vince McMahon.

All kidding aside, this is serious for three reasons. The first reason is that once the labor dispute is settled, Harrison could be fined heavily for his comments and suspended for at least four games. Roger Goodell does not really work for the players, rather it is the owners he works for. The owners voted/hired him as the NFL Commissioner, not the players. He mainly looks out for the owners and is concerned with improving the game and making money. He is also concerned with the NFL's public image. When Goodell came in, he focused on player conduct and held players to adhere to being good citizens. Playing football is a privilege, not a right, and it is not something to take for granted. There have been times when Goodell makes quick judgment calls on players involved in legal issues, but they were mainly justified. NFL had an image problem before he came in, and since then, there have been improvements for the NFL's public image. But now that James Harrison's comments have come out, you have to wonder if Goodell will use the player conduct policy to punish Harrison. I do not know how often the two men talked before last season, but let's not focus on that. Let's focus on how Harrison spoke freely, which is fine, but used a gay slur and we already saw Kobe Bryant get fined heavily for using that towards a basketball referee. He was not suspended, but would Goodell suspend Harrison? Probably.  Let's face it, society has moved forward, however slow or fast, and homosexuals are the last minority to remove from hate and insults. I like to think we all have, but it's still a ways to go when gay slurs are still used. People are still being hurt by these slurs, homosexual or not. Maybe a suspension will do so, but I do not want to hear him say 'Sorry, I did not mean it' or 'My words were twisted' because he used them. If anyone I know or myself did so without thinking, then I would feel guilty and try to apologize, not think of using it again, or actually talk with people being more tolerable. James Harrison should do something to prevent that again, cause he could have used that public forum for something positive towards all.

In writing all of that, I have not even talked about the two guns he posed with on the magazine's cover. Gun violence, and violence in general, has been an issue for athletes and famous people in general. Players have died resulting from gun violence, and James Harrison could have toned it down on the implied violence. I get that he's a hitman in football terms, but I personally don't think he should have used guns to signify that. Gun violence is what gets players in trouble with the law or even killed. I don't know if the magazine cover will affect Harrison in terms of league punishment, but it will leave a bad taste in the mouths of the general public. In addition to the gay slurs, Harrison should think twice about doing something like that for any magazine.

This ties in to the second reason I am concerned about, and that is with the Pittsburgh area and Steeler fans in general. We already have to deal with Ben Roethlisbergher's two sexual assault cases, and now Hines Ward's DUI. I have no idea the conservative or non-conservative ideals of Pittsburgh, nor do I care about it or for any other city. When you look at the sports side of things, the Pittsburgh community in general, how would the fans react? I would not be surprised if they acted the same way as they did with Ben's problems, but I have not come across that or read about it. What I do know is that with Ben there was already some resentment in terms of how he treated the local area, and his legal issues further ignited that. With Harrison, I don't know if it will be the same but, if it is, then it might be due to personal issues from the overall community towards Harrison. I have no idea how the area views James Harrison as a person, because let's face it, it's not like everyday we live next door to celebs or high profile figures. So far, I have not read about anything like that or heard about it. I don't know if he tips badly or treats people badly in general, but if there is similar sentiment towards James the person like there was with Ben the person, it might cause a public backlash for Harrison. As of now, there isn't, but if there are talks of Ben-like behavior in public and Harrison continues to do something like he did in Men's Journal, then it is possible public sentiment will turn against him, which leads to another issue.

The third reason is the atmosphere within the Steelers organization. I will talk more about the Steelers as a whole later on in the day, but this is just a start. Harrison called out Ben Roethlisbergher for putting his defense in bad spots by trying to be like Peyton Manning because he threw two picks in the last Super Bowl while Rashard Mendenhall was called a fumbling machine. Um, ok. Ben threw a pick while he was hit, and that was turned into six points for the Packers. Ben threw another in the Packers' side of the field, so that really wasn't a bad spot for the Steelers' defense to stop the Packers' offense. Sports analysts have actually mentioned Mendenhall fumbled a grand total of four times, which most likely includes the Super Bowl one where Clay Matthews had a good hit to knock the ball from his hands. Other than that, I don't recall Mendenhall fumbling a lot despite his high carrying and workhorse attitude. He perhaps has the best response of any kind using Twitter, linking his 2010-11 stats in response to Harrison's comments.

All kidding aside, I do feel concerned about the organization's response to Harrison's comments. Ben and Rashard said they cleared it up with Harrison, and Harrison said that his words were twisted. I don't buy any of this, at all. I feel there might be personal grudges, but the Steelers have owners and a coaching staff, led by head coach Mike Tomlin, who know how to handle issues like this. Plus, there are enough high quality, veteran leaders who know how to diffuse something like this. Even so, the Rooneys can not feel all that great that Harrison said those things about Roger Goodell and, to a lesser extent, two of their players. They might suspend Harrison to show they're being proactive or work with the league. No matter what, the Rooneys and Tomlin will talk to Harrison as soon as possible. In terms of playing football, Harrison is going to have more public scrutiny placed on him, and his playing ability could be affected. Throw his age out for just a moment, and think about whether his talking will be more well known than his play. We all saw how James Harrison came out back in 2007, on a Monday night game against the Ravens with his incredible play. He's shown his ability, but this past year, he wasn't as dominant to me because I feel it is more Lamarr Woodley being a force and Troy Polamalu actually playing the whole year basically. Don't get me wrong, his numbers were actually good, but I thought other players were more involved, as it should be since it is a team sport. The Steelers were the #1 ranked defense, and Harrison had a big part but I feel that he wasn't as important in terms of impact play cause he shares that with Woodley and Polamalu, but his numbers don't show that. In any case, I don't have that good of a memory but he's definitely good, but in the Super Bowl he only had one sack and one tackle. In fact, he should be upset how the defense as a whole failed and how he didn't play to his ability. With his recent comments, I wonder if this will affect his play. Joey Porter had been known to trash talk and raise his play, but that became old soon enough. Harrison wasn't a talker until this past season, and now I wonder if this will be a habit. Could he eventually talk himself out of Pittsburgh? I don't know, but we have seen Santonio Holmes get shipped out of Pittsburgh after the organization got tired of his legal issues and were actually considering the same with Ben. I should trust them to handle this well, but is there going to be a point of enough being enough? We'll see whenever football starts again, but let's hope he doesn't and he can still show that he's the type of player that can win the team games. He's not Polamalu, as biased as I am, but he has made plays so let's hope he can continue that. The Steelers' offseason the past two years have been marred by off field issues, and as I said, that will be talked about later. But James Harrison is the big issue, and we don't know what Roger Goodell will do when football starts up again. The organization might do something or work with the league, but let's hope that James Harrison can keep his mouth shut from now on. Sure, I'm writing this but let's not forget that athletes have been fined before for saying bad things about officials and executives.

What Harrison just said about Goodell, well, that's a whole new level. Could this be the start of Goodell setting a standard for handling player's comments? I don't know, but I do know this. Joey Porter was let go because his trash talking became tiresome and the Steelers didn't want to deal with that any longer. They were willing to trade Ben after his sexual assault case last year and let go of Santonio Holmes for an accumulation of off field issues. If the Steelers could part ways with important players like that, that shows they do not want to deal with any players who put out crap. James Harrison better make sure he doesn't give the Rooneys any reason for letting him go. They are well known for finding players that are ready to play or have the potential to step up, and the coaches they hire know how to bring it out. There might not be another James Harrison, but players are ready to go under the Steelers tutelage. James Harrison has a contract to play out and I believe he wants to finish as a Steeler. He better not do anything that will seriously jeopardize that chance, and his off field and on field acts will be under watch.

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