Pittsburgh Steelers' James Harrison and the NFL's Responsibility in 2011-12

Michael KirklandContributor IJuly 21, 2011

ORCHARD PARK, NY - NOVEMBER 28:  James Harrison #92 of the Pittsburgh Steelers rises after hitting Ryan Fitzpatrick of the Buffalo Bills during their game at Ralph Wilson Stadium on November 28, 2010 in Orchard Park, New York.  Harrison was flagged for roughing the passer during the play. (Photo by Karl Walter/Getty Images)
Karl Walter/Getty Images

In light of James Harrison’s recent homophobic slur and the NFL’s labor negotiations slowly drawing to a close, the league must address the anti-homosexual culture that dominates the most profitable American sports league.

Regardless of where you stand politically, the overwhelming majority believe it’s wrong to defame a person based solely on their sexual orientation.  School children have this basic understanding of tolerance, and if they do not, they are reprimanded.  No one should need to repeat the offensive language Harrison chose to use.

To be fair, Harrison, the Pittsburgh Steelers head-cracking linebacker, did not consider Commissioner Roger Goodell’s sexuality when he made the comment.  His words were meant to hurt a man whom he does not trust.  The slur, no matter its intent, was still hateful or, at the very least, distasteful.

Goodell will most likely suspend Harrison for a few games along with a heavy fine when the lockout ends, but speculation continues whether or not Harrison can be punished since the comments were made during the league’s separation with its players.

Harrison and Goodell, however, have the opportunity to make progress for equal treatment and tolerance for those with different sexual preferences.  If Harrison took the proactive approach, for example, and volunteered for gay rights activist groups like the It Gets Better campaign, his apology would seem more sincere in the public’s eye.

Goodell, for his part, must follow the lead of the NBA and MLB, especially the San Francisco Giants, and establish an NFL-sponsored campaign to combat discrimination against the homosexual community.

Some believe that it’s not the responsibility of the NFL to comment on social issues, but it does have the right to monitor its employees and owners so that they meet the standards of the league.  In a country as large and diverse as the United States, intolerance cannot be acceptable behavior within a multi-billion dollar company’s structure.

For the league that established the Rooney Rule, the NFL has the responsibility for promoting tolerance within its ranks, and if intolerance runs rampant, the commissioner must be proactive in addressing this issue including a tolerance campaign with NFL star volunteers.  That means you, Mr. Harrison.