Not a good week for the six-time Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. The bad news started when Hines Ward was arrested for DUI over the weekend in his native Georgia. Then on Wednesday morning, James Harrison provided the headlines, and arguably in a much more surprising way. Harrison, the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year and posterboy for illegal hits in the NFL last year, had some choice quotes published by Men’s Journal. In a lengthy interview to be featured in the magazine’s August edition, Harrison had some not so nice things to say about commissioner Roger Goodell. I think most fans understood and agreed with Harrison’s remarks about Goodell, even if some might have thought he took them too far. However, Harrison’s comments about the SB XLV performances of Ben Roethlisberger and Rashard Mendenhall had Steeler Nation scratching its head. Why say something disparaging and divisive about your own teammates? Goodell, fine. Your brothers in the locker room? Harder to comprehend.
However, it should be noted that Harrison reportedly reached out to Ben Roethlisberger on Wednesday morning to explain that his comments were taken out of context and twisted by the interviewer. We’ll see. I’m curious to see the interview in its entirety rather than just snippets. Regardless, any discussion about Harrison being near the end of his rope in Pittsburgh is premature. The team is always bigger than the individual, and there’s absolutely no scenario in which these guys won’t squash it once it comes time to get to work together in earnest after the lockout is lifted. Lawrence Timmons, the dynamite inside linebacker for Pittsburgh, thinks so at least. He has nothing but the highest praise for Harrison and what his help has meant for his own career as a young linebacker. He like the rest of us is a bit perplexed about the whole situation, but he’s confident everything will sort itself out and that this is probably just a case of Harrison being misunderstood yet again.
Timmons joined TSN Radio in Toronto to talk about James Harrison’s comments on Wednesday morning, what Harrison is like as a person and a teammate, if he thinks that Harrison was perhaps baited into his statements by the interviewer, whether Harrison is actually the scary, tough dude that his image projects through the media, if there’s any embarrassment from an organizational standpoint when a teammate brings that type of negative attention to the team, why he agrees with Harrison’s comments about preferring to be hit up high near the end, even at the risk of concussion, as opposed to down near the knees, how Harrison has played a big role in his development as a player in the league and why he’d never say anything to him along the lines of ‘what were you thinking?’, how Harrison isn’t the only player in the league that probably carries some sort of animosity towards Goodell, if he thinks players might feel emboldened to speak out like that due to the still unresolved lockout, and what his personal regiment has been during the work stoppage.
On learning about James Harrison’s comments on Wednesday morning:
“I don’t really have much to say about that, but I definitely was a bit surprised when I heard it. That’s all I’m going to say about that.”
On what Harrison is like as a person and a teammate:
“James Harrison is a big part of my growth. After my rookie year, I had a tough rookie year, and during the summer I worked out with him the whole time. And he basically just taught me how to work and how to be an athlete in this business. He was just substantial to my career and I look up to the guy and admire him. I have just nothing but the best things to say about him.”
If he thinks that Harrison might have been baited into his comments or if something perhaps prompted him to say what he did:
“Yeah, I’m sure it was something. But James is a guy that’s misunderstood. A lot of people think he’s a bad person, but he just sometimes says some things that he shouldn’t. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t feel this way, he probably just got kind of mixed up with his words. But he’s a great guy.”
If Harrison is actually the tough, scary guy that his image projects:
“No he’s not. He’s a great father, he does a lot in our community, he’s a Pittsburgh Steeler, we accept him, and I have nothing but the best things to say about him.”
If there’s any feeling of embarrassment from an organizational standpoint when Harrison sheds negative light on the team like that:
“That’s a tough question, but it’s a very tough spot to be him. James, like I said earlier, he’s not the best with words sometimes, he’s definitely misunderstood at times. He loves the Steelers, I’m pretty sure he loves Rashard and Ben, they always do like a little celebration than everybody else before the game. I’m pretty sure he does have a bit of fire towards Goodell because of the fines. That was a bit unfair I thought because they don’t have a limit on the fines they give, and they just came up with fines and gave it to the guy and I felt like that was very unfair.”
Why players (himself included) would rather get hit up high near the head as opposed to at the knees when there’s the risk of brain damage and concussions:
“It’s football, I mean, you know what you sign up for when you come out on the football field. It’s a violent sport, you’ve got train-wrecks out there. Look at him, he’s 5’10″, 270, runs a 4.5 — I’m pretty sure if that guy runs into somebody, I’m pretty sure he’s going to feel it. That’s just the game. That’s the way we played it in high school, college, the pros — that’s just the way it is.”
If he plans to reach out to Harrison and ask him about the incident:
“No I would never do that, because he’s a guy that’s misunderstood. I know he didn’t mean to say it like that. I just know I look up to him, he brought me up, like I said, in my career. And I just think he’s a bit misunderstood right now.”
On the tough week for the Steelers (Hines Ward of course got arrested for DUI over the weekend):
“We should abide by the rules, but at the same time we’re all human. We shouldn’t drive drunk, I understand that totally, and we shouldn’t make certain derogatory comments either. But we are human and we make mistakes sometimes.”
If it’s safe to say that Harrison is far from the only player in the league that feels some animosity towards the commissioner:
“A lot of guys feel a certain way about the fines. The fines, they were ill-advised and came out of nowhere and it wasn’t fair. This is quite a bit of chunk of change — you’re talking about 20 to 75 grand taken out of your checks. A lot of guys may have kids, three or four mortgages. That hurts. So yeah, I’m pretty sure there’s a lot of animosity towards Goodell.”
If he feels certain players might be emboldened to speak up and share their thoughts candidly because of the lockout:
“Yeah I guess because right now we don’t have jobs, so I guess a bit of the guys are a bit restless right now. But we’ve still got to stay classy, be professional, you know, a lot of people look up to us and we’ve just got to play it smart.”
What he’s been up to during the lockout:
“I’ve been working out in Pittsburgh at PowerTrain. I go Monday through Friday. I’m just trying to stick with it so I can have a great year and we can go back to the Super Bowl.”
No concern about there being a lingering effect from Harrison’s comments when the 2011 season finally starts?
“I’m pretty sure that everybody knows that it’s not about a person per se, it’s about the team. So I’m pretty sure they’ll work it out.”