By now, the story of James Harrison’s Men’s Journal tirade has reached almost every corner of the media-connected world. To recap, the Steelers linebacker unleashed a torrential downpour of profanity and bile in criticizing Roger Goodell; calling out teammates Ben Roethlisberger and Rashard Mendenhall; and insulting former Patriots players-turned-broadcasters Rodney Harrison and Tedy Bruschi. In the midst of his rant, he managed to praise Troy Polamalu for being polite — almost too polite.
James Harrison’s agent has come to his defense, brushing off his comments as pure “bravado.” Harrison’s teammates have said that they’ve spoken to him and their relationship is unchanged. The writer of the article, Paul Solotaroff, has backed Harrison’s retraction of his words, yet also offered that Harrison made worse comments about Big Ben that were omitted from print.
And yet, lost in the shock value of Harrison’s comments are the ramifications of his words.
No matter the context in which the statements were made, there’s very few situations where such harsh words would constitute a compliment. In his written apology, James Harrison did not shy away from the brutal nature of his remarks, but remained adamant that his criticisms and insults were taken out of proper context. I’m not sure in which context it’s acceptable to be a willing bystander while the Commissioner burns. Furthermore, while Harrison is a professional athlete, his words were anything but professional; if an employee cannot callously insult their boss in public without consequence, Harrison’s celebrity status should not make him exempt from such ramifications.
Beyond the insults towards his employer, the equally-troubling issue is his willingness to criticize his peers in speaking to a complete stranger. Such backhanded behavior is unacceptable in any work environment; while the NFL is placed on a pedestal, its rank in society does not make it any less of a workplace than an office or construction site. If the players claim in vanity interviews that they are no different from the average person, then they should not accept anything less than the same expectations as an employee under contract.
There are other elements to the story that are disturbing. Harrison, after all, has earned a reputation through no measure of luck. His style of play is aggressive to a fault, as his collisions have become increasingly violent. This aggression feeds James Harrison’s fuel on the field — and frighteningly, his mentality off of it: a domestic violence charge was brought against Harrison during an incident where he broke down the door of his bedroom during an argument with his child’s mother, broke her phone in half as she dialed 911, and slapped her across the face. While the charge was later dropped and Harrison entered into anger management, the details of the incident raised concerns that were largely ignored once the legal system cycled him out as if he did no wrong.
Make no mistake about it: James Harrison is a violent individual. In a society that glorifies violence, he should be its champion. And yet, with the backlash against his comments, even human decency and common sense may prevail on occasion. However, Harrison’s comments also display the ignorance and disregard he has for those who have created the public perception that he now claims his own.
James Harrison is, indeed, a “mean son-of-a-bitch” — and a dumb one, at that. Violence and stupidity are a dangerous mix.