By Brandon Niles
Pittsburgh Steelers star linebacker James Harrison has been taking some heat recently for an interview he did for Men’s Journal. In the interview, Harrison said some very negative things about NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, and had some choice words regarding other players, as well. While this was shocking to most people, and some things he said were wildly inappropriate and offensive, it’s just part of the game. Players consistently pop off about teams, coaches and other players, and (minus the bigoted slur) really it’s entertaining. What caught my eye however, was Harrison’s criticism of Goodell.
I dislike Goodell. I think he’s done a poor job as a commissioner. Among other factors, high priced tickets combined with black-out rules, the smarmy way he discusses league rules and policies, his inconsistencies doling out punishments, and his rock-star status in a role that generally should go unnoticed make me think he should no longer be league commissioner. Most of all, regardless of the complications involved, the league lockout is a massive failure on his part.
But this was not what we heard from James Harrison. Harrison instead complained about being fined $100,000 for vicious hits this past season. The NFL has long been a violent sport, but there were days when a tackle was a technical thing. The proper technique for tackling includes using both arms to wrap-up the ball-carrier: lift them off their feet and down to the ground. More recently, players have moved from using good tackling technique to using the entire force of their shoulders to hit a ball-carrier as hard as they can to knock him down. This has led to an increase in concussions and other serious injuries, which subsequently have led to an increase in rules, fines and safety guidelines.
NFL fans often complain about the “wussification” of the sport. They discuss the horrible these safety rules and how football is worse as a result. Harrison has echoed this sentiment in the past, and alluded to this mentality during the interview, as well. I disagree.
While big hits are entertaining, I’d much rather see players use solid football fundamentals in a competitive yet safer field of play. I’d rather keep star players on the field than watch them get carried off. I’m eager to hear coherent sentences from a seasoned and experienced Peyton Manning as a commentator years after his eventual retirement. I see the absence of big hits as a necessary aspect of the evolution of the game, and one that in no way damages the product on the field.
James Harrison is a dirty player who has made a name for himself hitting hard. But his complaint about being singled only reflects his failure to learn and adapt to safer rules. If he’s truly the dominant player he’s shown himself to be over the past few years, he shouldn’t have trouble being dominant while returning to solid football fundamentals.
The game has not been wussified. Rather, it’s being refined to ensure maximum entertainment. People tend to forget that’s what football is, what all sports are: entertainment. Why should we completely ignore safety as a means to entertain the masses? And if that’s the case, why shouldn’t we return to the days of gladiators? At least then it was honest.