As far as I am concerned, James Harrison can tug on Superman's cap — or in this case, Roger Goodell's Gucci suit — all he wants.
He can spit into the wind with reckless abandon when it comes to his fines and the Patriots and all of that. The result might just be more fines, and Harrison already has PayPalled a hefty chunk of his salary to the league, so why not some more? I suspect he really doesn't care about that part of it as much as most people think.
But calling out his teammates? That is an absolute line-crosser.
The Steelers, historically, are known for their restraint and even-keeled approach to business and football. It's the Rooney Way: Treat team issues like they are family matters. That deft touch has served them almost universally well.
But if you kick the family hornet's nest, as Harrison has, throwing verbal grenades at teammates Ben Roethlisberger and Rashard Mendenhall for their Super Bowl shortcomings, well you are subject to serious scorn. Inside and outside the organization.
As a reminder, the one time Harrison was painfully quiet — when his team needed some of his infamous thunder — was the last time we saw him on the field: in Super Bowl XLV. He had one tackle (a sack, but a gift sack at that) in the game and generally played quite poorly, I thought.
If you are going to call out Roethlisberger and Mendenhall for their turnovers, Harrison has to throw himself under the bus as well. Even that might not be a saving grace.
So far the Steelers, not surprisingly, have reacted with a measured, patient approach. Here's the initial statement of Steelers president Art Rooney II: "I have not yet seen the article in Men's Journal nor have I spoken to James Harrison about his comments. We will discuss the situation at the appropriate time, when permitted once the labor situation is resolved."
They'll say more, clearly, and probably most of it will come out after the new CBA is ratified. But you have to think Mike Tomlin is sitting at home and is steamed right now. He already is going to have to deal with Hines Ward and his DUI charge when football starts, and now this?
A reminder to those who haven't checked the schedule lately: The Steelers play the Ravens in Week One. A reminder to those who have not paid attention to the NFL the past five years: This is the best, and maybe the most important (sorry Jets and Patriots fans), rivalry going in football.
Maybe no Ward for that game. And if I am Tomlin, maybe no Harrison either.
Yes, you seriously have to think about dealing seriously with your most feared defender. Trading or releasing him might be too severe a measure; after all, they took that patient approach with Roethlisberger following his incredible indiscretions last year, and it worked out for the best. The Steelers were in support of the league's decision to suspend Roethlisberger, a penalty that lasted four games into the ’10 season.
Perhaps Harrison never will see the light if it's Goodell and 280 Park Avenue who discipline. Maybe it's going to take someone named Rooney or Tomlin applying the heat for him to realize that there are some lines that don't need to be crossed.
In a way, I understand Harrison's struggle. The NFL is not only a copycat league, it's a gingerbread cookie-cutter outfit. They like things neat and clean, all parties involved. James Harrison is anything but cookie cutter. He's not like most of us. And I am all for difference. He'll just never be able to be the kind of different he wants to be.
But he also has to realize his environment. Lesser players would be cut for calling out their teammates. You and I railing on our bosses in public would get us canned within the hour. Harrison likely will be a Steeler despite this. But he might need some time alone with his thoughts. It remains a privilege, not a right — as this lockout most assuredly has reminded us — to play in the NFL. He needs to know this.
I am sure part of the Men's Journal interview was because of some lockout-induced steam blowing; we all probably have silently sounded off at some point since March 11. But that's the point: Most of us have felt the sting, but we have not turned our ire towards our teammates. If we have, we deserve to pay for it. Plain and simple.
Harrison's comments about his teammates were the most egregious. What he said about the NFL, Goodell and the Patriots? No different than what others have said. Posing with guns is just plain idiotic, and that will be what the league uses as evidence in case it chooses to suspend him. But the comments about the teammates are the most troublesome if you are the Steelers. You have to keep it in the family, even if you do secretly think Ben is not Peyton Manning or that Mendenhall is a chronic fumbler.
I think a team suspension of two games — the Seahawks come to Pittsburgh in Week Two — will be enough of a message from the club to their caustic-tongued linebacker. But if he says more, then all bets are off. He's had plenty of warning before.