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Rooney welcomes discourse on hits policy

| Friday, Dec. 3, 2010

Frustrated over James Harrison's battle of wills with the NFL, Steelers president Art Rooney II said the team has been going to bat for the outside linebacker behind closed doors.

Rooney said Thursday he is worried that the Steelers' hard-hitting defense could be compromised in the league initiative to cut down on dangerous hits.

Rooney questioned whether the NFL has overstepped its bounds in its proactive approach to player safety. He thinks the Steelers have been targeted during the crackdown.

"It certainly looks that way," Rooney said. "Not that we're expecting much sympathy from other teams, but I think some of this will be part of the discussion after the season is over. Hopefully we'll all have our chances to express our opinions and at that point have a better understanding of where the owners in the league stand on some of this.

"I think we're sympathetic to the idea that we need to focus on player safety and particularly on helmet-to-helmet hits. The other side of it is it's still a football game, and I think we've got to be realistic about how the rules can be changed and what we expect of the defensive players in particular."

Harrison has been the player most affected since the league started enforcing the rule on unnecessary roughness.

He has been fined a total of $125,000, and Rooney said there is a concern that the NFL will suspend the three-time Pro Bowler if he doesn't conform to the rule that prohibits helmet hits on defenseless players.

Ray Anderson, the NFL's executive vice president of football operations, told the Tribune-Review yesterday that the league is not singling out Harrison.

Anderson did put the onus on Harrison to play within NFL rules. He added if the Steelers' sacks leader continues to run afoul of them that it could see him suspended.

"At the end of the day we have an important responsibility, and if that means at some point we have to remove a player from the field to get the message clearly in his mind and to protect players that he's violating, we will do so," said Anderson, whose office reviews every play from a given week and decides if any warrant fines. "But we hope that doesn't come to pass."

Harrison said earlier this week that he won't change his style of play and "will let the chips fall where they may."

His latest fine set off another barrage of criticism in the Steelers' locker room Wednesday.

Wide receiver Hines Ward railed against the hypocrisy of the league. Inside linebacker James Farrior asked why NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith had not done more to back Harrison.

Harrison has unsuccessfully appealed three of his fines and plans to contest the one he got earlier this week.

Smith did not return several messages yesterday.

"I think guys maybe just want an explanation," free safety Ryan Clark, the Steelers' player representative, said of Farrior's comment about Smith. "He does not have to come out here. He can call or whatever, but we'll see how it plays out."

Rooney said the Steelers have been in consistent contact with the league since Harrison started getting fined on a regular basis.

Dan Rooney, Art's father and Steelers chairman emeritus, has also been in touch with the league.

"I think he shares some of the concerns we have," said Art Rooney of his father, the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland. "I'm sure the conversation he's having are between him and the league, and that's the way they should be kept."

Rooney said he doesn't have a problem with players voicing their opinions on the issue as long as it doesn't consume them.

The Steelers visit the Ravens on Sunday with first place in the AFC North on the line.

"They understand what's at stake here in this game and as we head into the home stretch of the season," Rooney said. "I'm not worried about it, but I think it is something they need to keep in mind. We need to make sure we keep our focus and not allow it to become a distraction."

rooney's take

Steelers president Art Rooney II on ...

Assertions by some of the Steelers' defensive players that the NFL's top priority is to protect its marquee quarterbacks:

"(Such claims) have been something that's been going on since Jack Lambert said we should put skirts on them. Maybe we've taken more steps down that road. And again, that's been one of our concerns, is how far are we going with some of this• Protecting the quarterback, particularly the hit to the head kind of situation, is something we're in favor of. Of course, the other side of it is, you get to the point where are you still allowed to tackle the quarterback• I don't know."

Coach Mike Tomlin refusing to publicly criticize the NFL for the penalties and fines that James Harrison has received this season:

"I think Mike doesn't want to fall into the trap of having this become a distraction. It's a tough line that he's got to walk, but I think he's walked the line the right way and he understands that players are going to vent on occasion. That's fine: They can say what they want to say. But I think from Mike's point of view he needs to make sure it doesn't become a distraction, and I think he's got to be guarded in what he says because of that."

Strong safety Troy Polamalu saying earlier this season that commissioner Roger Goodell has too much power when it comes to disciplining players for on-field infractions:

"If you look down through the years, our league has benefited from having a system where we've had a commissioner that was a very powerful office. And I'm not necessarily looking to dramatically change that in any way. The fact we've had a system where our commissioner has kind of been 'the buck stops' and that's where the power is in the league ... overall, I'm satisfied that's the way it should be."

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