Pittsburgh Steelers: Why James Harrison Does Not Deserve a Suspension

Brian StewartContributor IIIDecember 13, 2011

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 8:   James Harrison #92 of the Pittsburgh Steelers tackles  Colt McCoy #12 of the Cleveland Browns during the game on December 8, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The Steelers won 14-3.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Football is changing. Football is changing, and I'm not entirely sure I like the direction it is going in. 

Now, I didn't get the chance to live through the days when NFL football was at its finest. The '60s, '70s and '80s were all well before my time. However, that does not change my view on what football should be. 

Football, at the end of the day, is a Contact sport. It is a sport where your objective, particularly if you are a defensive player, is to get the ball away from the other team, by whatever means possible. 

And in that process, players are going to get hit, and they are going to get hurt. There is a reason NFL players make the money they do. It's a high-risk environment. And you know what?  I'm willing to bet every NFL player knows that. 

Now let's fast forward to a fateful day in 2010, when the Pittsburgh Steelers were playing the Cleveland Browns. I guess there is more than one point of view on that game. Some would say it was hard-hitting. Unfortunately, there were others who decided to say it was too hard-hitting. 

In that one game, Steelers outside linebacker and enforcer of the defense James Harrison was penalized twice for helmet to helmet hits. Now, you might think, "Ok, what is the point here?" 

The point is that for the past 40 years, the NFL celebrated hits just like those. If you made a hit like that, it was instantly considered a "highlight" for the highlight reel.

It gets no more ironic considering the fact that NFL.com was selling photos of Harrison's hits days after he was flagged for them, and using them to attract attention to other photos on their website.

And yet, after all this, Harrison became the bad guy. He became the guy who was mean, edgy and spiteful. And it didn't get better. 

Against the Saints, he was flagged for a questionable hit on Drew Brees. Against the Bills, he got flagged and fined for a form tackle on Ryan Fitzpatrick. Through it all, Harrison became the figurehead for the leagues movement to "eliminate" helmet-to-helmet contact. 

But not all helmet-to-helmet contact. If you are an offensive player, and you lay a block that has helmet-to-helmet contact, it isn't flagged. For something that happens on nearly every play of football, all of the sudden defensive players were being singled out for it.

So, now let's fast forward a bit.  Harrison was flagged on Nov. 28, 2010. He then went on to spend over a year without ONE offense. Since that game, Harrison played in almost an entire seasons worth of games, and hasn't been flagged once. 

Until Dec. 8, 2011, against the team the entire mess started against, the Browns. Harrison hit QB Colt McCoy in the helmet on a play that would confuse most to begin with. McCoy rolled out of the pocket, and acted like he was going to run.

Standing in his path is James Harrison. If Harrison does nothing, McCoy gets the first down in a critical situation easily. So, he rushes him. At the last moment, McCoy throws the ball and gets hit. 

The end result of all this is that Harrison has been suspended for one game. My question is:  Why? What precedent is there to warrant suspending James Harrison. 

Let me make some things clear. I'm all for player safety. The last thing I want is for players to get hurt. I'm also OK if Harrison gets fined in this situation. The rules, regardless of their validity, state that what he did was "illegal," so a fine is reasonable. 

But a suspension? Really? In the same time span that Harrison has had one helmet-helmet hit, there is probably a group of 50-plus defenders who have had that exact same amount of violations. Some of them repeat offenders. And yet no suspensions

What this ultimately boils down to, is an issue of clarity. As it stand to begin with, the rules surrounding helmet-to-helmet contact have MANY grey areas. What's worse, people who have never played a down of football in the NFL are the ones dictating what is and isn't an "illegal" hit. 

What I want, and what I'm sure many football fans want, is clarity and consistency. Then, anger over some of these issues might not be so prevalent.

I've said a lot on this issue. Probably more than needed to be said. But at the end of the day, if this is the way things are going to be, let's see consistency. 

Every NFL defender had best be careful if they have any history of helmet-to-helmet contact, because under this type of situation, we might be seeing a lot more suspensions in the near future.