Even in the midst of a lockout, James Harrison has found a way to deliver a few cheap shots.
In the August issue of Men's Journal, the Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker lays into NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (his second favorite target, after opposing players), his opponents, and even his teammates with some seriously questionable comments. See Rooney family? This is what you get when you don't let Harrison hit people.
A four-time Pro Bowler and 2008 AP Defensive Player of the Year, Harrison has earned a reputation for being a hard hitter, both off and on the field. And he's never shied away from expressing his displeasure about Commissioner Goodell and the league's crackdown on dangerous hits, which cost Harrison $100,000 in fines in 2010.
It was one thing when Harrison threatened to retire after being fined $75,000 for his concussion-causing hit on Cleveland Browns wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi last October. He was frustrated, and felt like he was being singled-out as the poster boy for the midseason rule changes. But his most recent comments cross a line, both in the locker room and the NFL head offices.
He called Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall a "fumble machine" for his fourth quarter turnover against the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLV. And criticized quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for his two interceptions, telling him to "stop trying to act like Peyton Manning." Apparently though, Harrison gives himself a pass for recording only one tackle (albeit a sack) during the big game.
His public criticism draws a clear line in the locker room between the Steelers offense and defense -- the outspoken linebacker has nothing but compliments for fellow Steelers defender Troy Polamalu. Still, Harrison has been called many things over the years, but a "bad teammate" has never been one of them. ESPN reports that he has called Roesthlisberger to explain his comments, claiming the Men's Journal article "twisted" them. Mendenhall responded to his public dig via Twitter, saying he didn't have a problem with Harrison.
But an athlete publicly calling out his teammates isn't exactly a new phenomenon (neither is deflecting responsibility for a loss), and it's something Harrison and coach Mike Tomlin will have to deal with in the locker room once the lockout is lifted. Harrison saved his choicest quotes for the commissioner. And he's going to have trouble claiming those were twisted too.
Calling Goodell a "crook," a "puppet," a "devil" and, apparently gunning for the bad press cycle, a choice anti-gay slur, Harrison didn't stop there, telling the magazine flat out, "I hate [Goodell] and will never respect him." Just in case we still weren't clear.
Look, we don't live in some fantasy land. Millions of people undoubtedly say similar, and probably much worse things about their superiors everyday (see: Horrible Bosses). But there's a big difference between privately griping to your friends or significant other and telling a magazine, "If that man was on fire and I had to piss to put him out, I wouldn't do it." There's one to try out at the next all-company barbecue.
It's a shame, because when you get past all the insanely inflammatory statements, Harrison actually makes some legitimate points about the league's player safety crusade. But at a time when public sentiment overwhelmingly favors the players in the NFL's asinine labor dispute, Harrison's headline-stealing comments are the last thing the players union needs.
Bill Parise, Harrison's agent, defended his client's language to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, saying, "I think people have to be careful not to read that and think those statements are anything more than expressions of feelings, particularly in regard to the commissioner. The commissioner fined James $100,000 last year. What do you want him to say, he's my best friend?"
Apparently we shouldn't be surprised that a player who has trouble controlling himself on the field has just as much trouble reigning himself in off it. And yes, Harrison has every right to be frustrated -- at the lockout, at the NFL's seemingly hypocritical campaign for player safety, at losing the Super Bowl. But he also has to be ready to deal with the consequences, whether they come from his own locker room or, more likely, the league head office.
Claiming he was misquoted, or taken out of context, or simply "James being James" just isn't going fly. At some point, James Harrison is going to have to start taking some personal responsibility. If he doesn't want to be known for delivering cheap shots, maybe he should stop taking them in the media.