James Harrison is a Madman and We Wouldn't Have It Any Other Way

Why those vilifying the Steelers' unhinged linebacker are missing the point.




 

 

Greased up like a truck-stop stripper and holding akimbo handguns across his chest, Steelers linebacker James Harrison made a visual and verbal nincompoop of himself in this month's Men's Journal. In his tirade against Commissar Goodell, the New England Patriots and even his own teammates, Harrison somehow made amateur conspiracy theorist Rashard Mendenhall seem comparatively sane.

The kerfuffle kicked off a week-long marathon of rosary-clutching and revisionist history from an understandably punch-drunk fanbase. First it was the Super Bowl hangover, then Mendenhall's goofball Truther philosophizing and Hines’ failings with the DUI-decimal system, and now Harrison is sabotaging his own team?

This has been a summer of unprecedented numb-nuttery, that much is certain. But those who say that the moral fabric of the Steelers is tearing need to grab a mirror. Or a history book. Harrison's verbal barrage is media kindling, and nothing more. Unlike any other sport, overall team chemistry doesn't exist in the NFL. The idea of it makes for stirring NFL Films montages, but in reality, football locker rooms are segmented into small clusters of friends—the offensive linemen, the tight ends, the defensive backs.

Ask any player who his best friend on the team is and 9 out of 10 will say a player of their same position. Several defensive players have told me that they don't even watch the game when the offense is on the field.

The guiding hand of the Steelers was never Harrison, or even Roethlisberger. The leadership and personality of the team starts at the top with head coach and Wikiquote generator Mike Tomlin, and it ends with guys like Farrior and Polamalu. Worrying that the moral fabric of the Steelers is disintegrating because of Harrison's dumb-out is like worrying that the intellectual integrity of an entire 3rd grade class is crumbling because one mouth-breathing turtle-enthusiast won't stop eating Elmer's glue like it's fro-yo.
 


 

If you’re still feeling queasy about an internal rift, remember that the Steelers won a Super Bowl in 2005 when their defensive leader, Joey Porter, and their offensive leader, Roethlisberger, wouldn’t have peed on the other guy if he was on fire.

If the Internet had existed in the 1970s, several members of the Steel Curtain would have Photoshop’ed pictures of Terry Bradshaw chewing straw and riding a donkey around Station Square and Tweeted them to the world. Folk hero Jack Lambert would routinely threaten rookie running backs with disembowelment at training camp.

What do you think you’re watching on Sundays, anyway?

Harrison should undoubtedly be ashamed of calling Goodell a homophobic slur, but just as reprehensible are the media opportunists who have jumped at the opportunity crucify him when they’re just as culpable for the deification of jock culture. Walk into any locker room in professional sports and you’ll hear the F-word tossed around freely. Yet the mainstream media is all too eager to engineer puff pieces and cooked-up redemption stories about the very same athletes they see the uncut side of every single day.

Writers play dumb and deaf, and sell the fans the stories they want to hear. It’s dishonest, but inevitable given the media’s co-opting in the Sports Industrial Complex. So when a player is an unabashed animal and says as much right to our faces, “I am mean, I am a beast,” we recoil. How can this be? This is not my beautiful house. This is not my beautiful linebacker.

The visual of an armed Harrison in the Men’s Journal article wasn’t too far from the truth. Harrison is a hired gun; a hitman. Sometimes hired guns also happen to be giant sons-a-bitches. Often the best ones are—like Greg Lloyd, Kevin Greene, Ernie Holmes, Joe Greene, Lawrence Taylor, and other cement heads.

And what of Jack Splat? We mythologize Lambert, a solid man off the field, no doubt. But why is he a legend? Because he wore a t-shirt under his pads that warned, "I am a F****** Maniac." Because he snarled like an animal and said despicable things about opponents' wives and mothers. We love him because he was so intoxicatingly terrifying, so primal and real. He, like Harrison, was honest about his brutality.
 


So much of what Harrison has said about the state of the NFL today is a carbon copy of what Lambert warned us of in the ‘70s:

"Yes, I get satisfaction out of hitting a guy and seeing him lie there a while."

"I believe the game is designed to reward the ones who hit the hardest. If you can't take it, you shouldn't play."

Those quotes are from Lambert, but are an echo of Harrison’s diatribes.

Only now we’re supposed to feign horror when Harrison admits to getting a cathartic rush from knocking an opponent senseless, because neurological science has finally caught up with the dirty little secret we knew all along. The house lights have come up on the peep show, and here we all are: the beasts and the voyeurs. So what now?

Harrison is everything we say we want in a football player when we’re on the bar stool or in the recliner: He didn’t merely play all of last season with a herniated disk in his back, a debilitating injury that required him to get a discectomy after the Super Bowl. He played every single series last season. The majority of NFL players would been laid up, but Harrison was laying out quarterbacks, fighting through spasms and seizures without saying a word about it.

And for what? Why, at age 32, would he risk the rest of his abbreviated career? For you? For your message board egoism? No. He played because he knows nothing else. He doesn’t know where else to put his seething anger.

If you can’t accept that moral ambiguity, ask yourself this: What kind of person does it take to do what Harrison does? What kind of mad multimillionaire launches head-first into a 200-pound man at top speed, knowing full well that the price is a hot knife tearing through the tendons of his back?

In the sea of decontextualized nonsense that is quoted in the Men’s Journal profile, Harrison said the most disturbingly honest thing I’ve heard out of the mouth of an NFL player in a long time. “When you hit a dude hard, you feel it, too, and the Steelers go at play-to-die speeds. But if, God forbid, I wind up having brain damage, so be it.”

That’s the NFL as Coca-Cola, Sprint and Roger Goodell never want you to see it, and the most heartbreakingly honest admission from a Steelers player since the late Dwight White told Time magazine, "There's no question that I'm schizoid. I might be three or four people. I know I can be evil."

As long as Harrison keeps his idiocy and his firearms confined to print and not aimed at a police helicopter, the Steelers will be happy he's the mean, mad asshole in black-and-gold and not any other color. And if you think the Rooneys should take the moral high ground and ship Harrison out of town because of some long-lost phantasm called “The Steeler Way,” Google "Ernie Holmes manhunt" for a history lesson.

Apparently, there’s only one mortal sin in today’s NFL. You can be a lout, a beast, a madman, even a remorseless executioner. You just can’t admit to it. Because once you break down that fourth wall—once you turn to the audience and wink, “I am not an actor; I am a bad man,” the whole grand spell is broken.

 

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Pittsburgh's Top 10 Things to Do in March

Pittsburgh's Top 10 Things to Do in March

Your 10 best bets for this month.
Jamie Dixon: Winning His Way

Jamie Dixon: Winning His Way

Peers, players, and regular observers know him to be one of the best coaches — and people — in college basketball.
15 Buzzworthy Pittsburgh Salons

15 Buzzworthy Pittsburgh Salons

From east to west — and north and south — these are the region’s salons and services that make our cut. Having a good hair day doesn’t have to be so difficult after all.
Home of the Year: 2015

Home of the Year: 2015

This year’s selections include a Richland Township house built to appreciate its 160-acre lot and Shadyside garage that was renovated into a stunning, modern dream home.
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Everything That's Awesome About Pittsburgh Today
See the Resume Tape That Landed Sally Wiggin in Pittsburgh

See the Resume Tape That Landed Sally Wiggin in Pittsburgh

Wiggin is celebrating 35 years on Pittsburgh television.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
Deer Debate: It's All about Priorities

Deer Debate: It's All about Priorities

PittGirl can't be convinced there is any solid math that proves an animal’s life is more important than a human one.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
First Look: Smoke's New Lawrenceville Location

First Look: Smoke's New Lawrenceville Location

At long last, Jeff Petruso and Nelda Carranco again are churning out the Tex-Mex-style tacos Pittsburghers crave.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
5 Best Retro Shops in Pittsburgh

5 Best Retro Shops in Pittsburgh

For anyone looking for a perfect #throwback picture to post, head here first.

Comments


Lawrenceville's Home for Cigar Education

Lawrenceville's Home for Cigar Education

Cigar novice? Visit Sammy Sing at The Cigar Den for a crash course and a relaxing time.

Comments


A Taste of Things to Come: Potential Offerings at Kevin Sousa's New Restaurant

A Taste of Things to Come: Potential Offerings at Kevin Sousa's New Restaurant

While the chef readies his Braddock restaurant, he's hosting a series of dinners at home to try out dishes.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Looking Sharp

Looking Sharp

Give your style some bite with the porcelain shark tooth necklace by Redraven studios.

Comments


This week's buzz from the PM editors
Malpaso Dance Co. Heats Up the Kelly-Strayhorn

Malpaso Dance Co. Heats Up the Kelly-Strayhorn

The Cuban dance company performs this weekend at the East Liberty venue.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
#PGHWeddings

#PGHWeddings

More brides are using social media to enhance their wedding days, so we’re sharing a few tips to help you do the same.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Now Accepting 2016 Home of the Year Submissions

Now Accepting 2016 Home of the Year Submissions

Our first standalone HOME issue in years features the 2015 winners of the annual Home of the Year competition — and we're already thinking about next year's contest.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Going Green: Students at Cal U Competition Will Recycle Robots

Going Green: Students at Cal U Competition Will Recycle Robots

The university's event, to be held March 5-7, will bring together teams of 'bot-building students.

Comments


Thinking outside the box (score)
Time Not on Penguins GM’s Side

Time Not on Penguins GM’s Side

General Manager Jim Rutherford has overhauled much of the Pens’ roster in a short period of time. Will his mind-on-the-now plan work to win Cup No. 4?

Comments


Award-winning sports commentary by Sean Conboy
R.I.P. Corporate Penguins, 2009-2014

R.I.P. Corporate Penguins, 2009-2014

Fire Bylsma? Fire Shero? The Penguins' problems run deeper.

Comments

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags