Steelers' Harrison returns, won't change style of play
Steelers linebacker James Harrison said he played within the rules but that his comments following Sunday's above the shoulder tackle on Cleveland Browns wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi resulted in him being fined $75,000 this week by the NFL.
Harrison said in a statement released by the team after Thursday's practice that he has no plans to retire and will continue to play with the same aggressive style that has resulted in three consecutive Pro Bowl appearances.
"After having some time to think about the situation, talk to my family, friends and the Steelers organization, I have come to the decision that I cannot and will not let the league office stop me from playing the game I love," Harrison said.
Harrison did not speak during two media availability periods yesterday, where he would have had to answer questions. Instead, he released a lengthy statement through the team that he isn't retiring and about his unhappiness with the league's decision to fine him. He also maintained he isn't a dirty player.
In the final paragraph of his statement, Harrison said, "I will not retire from the NFL. I will continue to play the game with the same passion, intensity and focus with which I have always played and let the chips fall where they may."
Harrison apologized for his comments in which he told reporters immediately following the game, "I want to hurt somebody. If you hurt somebody, they'll be back the next play. I don't want to see anybody injured. An injury will keep you out. But I'm not opposed to hurting anybody."
In his statement, Harrison did not apologize for his hit against Massaquoi.
"I am all for player safety and agree that some of the rule changes have been good for the game. As far as my situation, I believe the hit against Massaquoi for which I was fined was legal and was well within the scope of the rules," Harrison said. "I feel the real reason for the fine was the statement I made after the game (when) I said that I try to hurt people, not injure them.
"In the same sentence, I attempted to clarify my meaning, but I understand that my comments leave a lot open to interpretation. The statement was not well-thought out, and I did not adequately convey my meaning.
"I apologize for making that statement, and I want it to be known that I've never and would never intentionally try to injure any player."
Harrison's teammates welcomed him back to practice a day after coach Mike Tomlin sent Harrison home to cool off.
"He had a short retirement. I think we all should have a short retirement once in a while," defensive end Aaron Smith said.
Free safety Ryan Clark said he knew Harrison was returning before the linebacker left the team facility Wednesday.
"He's fine," Clark said. "Obviously, it was a tough situation for him. He was able to handle it the way that he needed and think about things. We're just glad to have him back. To us, he's the same James he's always been."
The NFL sent a memo and video to all NFL teams Wednesday warning players that illegal hits on defenseless players above the shoulders will result in harsher penalties. In addition to stiffer fines, players are subject to suspensions even after a first offense.
The league has also empowered officials to eject players from games for blatant helmet-to-helmet hits.
In addition, coaches have been told that they are expected to teach the game so it is played within the confines of the rules. Failure to do so could result in sanctions for the coaches and their teams. Steelers players and coaches watched the video sent by the league yesterday.
According to some Steelers, the recent changes favor offensive players but don't protect defensive players.
"They can cut block you," Smith said. "You're running full speed, and someone can just dive at your legs. No one likes to have people dive at your legs. If I'm taking on a double team, that's two men totaling almost 700 pounds, and they're trying to bend me over backwards.
"My thing is, where do you draw the line• How do you decide who to defend and who not to defend• Who makes that decision and who determines what's what?"
Commissioner Roger Goodell's message to all 32 NFL teams this week maintains that player safety "is one of our highest priorities." Goodell added that "violations of the playing rules that unreasonably put the safety of another player in jeopardy have no place in the game, and that is especially true in the case of hits to the head and neck."
Clark said players are confused about the rules.
"You always try to do it within the rules," Clark said. "It just seems that sometimes the rules are getting skewed. It's not as black or white as it used to be. It's kind of shades of gray right now. We're just trying to figure it out."