Shutdown Corner - NFL

James Harrison apologizes, but will damage control be enough?

You knew that at some point, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison(notes) was going to have to do some fairly major damage control regarding the interview he gave to Men's Journal magazine for its August issue. In that interview, Harrison called NFL commissioner Roger Goodell "stupid," a "crook," and a "devil," among other things, concluding his soliloquy on the Commish with the trenchant thought that if Goodell were on fire, Harrison wouldn't stop to urinate on him. He also threw Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger(notes) and running back Rashard Mendenhall(notes) under the bus, and took shots at NFL player Brian Cushing(notes) and former player Rodney Harrison(notes) for alleged steroid use. Throw in a cover shot in which Harrison posed with two guns, and the occasional gay slur ... all in all, it was quite the little blowup.

Harrison first claimed that Men's Journal writer Paul Solotaroff had twisted his words, but after Solotaroff went on and told his eminently rational side of the story, Harrison's believability index dropped right through the floor.

"James is speaking for thousands when he issues those remarks," Solotaroff said. " ... I got to James in May of this year [for the interview], so let's count backwards. He'd had about eight months to seethe and stew about having been made the poster boy of the NFL concussion syndrome … Here's a guy who never comes off the field, who played the entire 2010 season with two ruptured disks, couldn't push off his right leg, had no strength, very little explosion, and had 10 sacks and finished third in the Defensive Player of the Year voting. If they [the Steelers] want to cut bait with James, there's this portly fellow in New York -- Ah, what's his name? Oh yeah, Rex Ryan -- who would be able to find a place for him at right outside linebacker. James is going to land on his feet."

In the end, Harrison had to resort to the only thing that may get him off the hook to any degree with the league, and that was the (relatively) well-crafted public apology, which he posted on his Facebook page. You can read the full text of the apology after the jump; I'll just add that I wish Harrison would find better ways to communicate what he has to say. I think he has some very valid points about the way the league hands out on-field discipline, but he's putting those thoughts out there in ways that make him impossible to be taken seriously.

In any case, here's the latest:

I'll start by offering my apologies for some of the words that I said during the four days in May that Men's Journal was invited to my house to discuss what the NFL has recently been portraying as their attempts at 'player safety' rules and regulations, and to cover my everyday workout routine.

I did make comments about my teammates when I was talking about the emotional Super Bowl loss, but the handful of words that were used and heavily publicized yesterday were pulled out of a long conversation and the context was lost. Obviously, I would never say that it was all Ben's or Rashard's fault that we lost the Super Bowl. That would be ridiculous. Both Ben and Rashard are great players and great teammates. Clearly the entire team bears responsibility for the loss, me included. It was a team effort and a team loss. My teammates know me well, and hopefully understand the things I said were not meant to accuse them of the loss. We all have discussed several things that went wrong in the Super Bowl since that day. What I do apologize for and take full responsibility for is for speaking in such a candid manner to someone outside the team.

I also need to make clear that the comment about Roger Goodell was not intended to be derogatory against gay people in any way. It was careless use of a slang word and I apologize to all who were offended by the remark. I am not a homophobic bigot, and I would never advocate intolerance of gay people.

As far as the photo that was shown on air yesterday, collecting guns is a hobby of mine, and I advocate the responsible use of firearms. I believe in the right to bear arms. I like to go to the shooting range. I like to hunt. I like to fish. I could just as easily have posed with my fishing poles but it obviously wouldn't be an interesting picture for the magazine. I am not promoting gun violence by posing for that photo. There are also other photos in the magazine story that were not shown on air yesterday — including me with my sons, with my mom and as a kid.

Unfortunately, the above items and other comments have detracted from the original purpose of the story — a position I have been advocating for some time now. If player safety is the NFL's main concern, as they say it is, they are not going about it in an effective manner. There's nothing about extending the season or issuing exorbitant fines on defensive players that makes any shift toward the prevention of injury to players.

I believe that the league may have been feeling increasing pressure about injuries and concussions last year, and that they panicked and put rules in place that weren't fully thought out. I'm not advocating more flags and fines, I'm just saying that the current rules are not completely fair, and I don't believe in the way that the league is handling their position as overseer of the NFL and the well-being of its players.

As far as the character and reputation hits I may suffer as a result of my comments in the article, I'll take those hits and more if it brings increased attention to the re-examination and installation of rules and regulations that would create a real impact on player safety.

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