Super Bowl XLV Media Day became less about frivolity, Vic the Brick’s wig and the lack of clothing worn by reporter Ines Sainz and instead was transformed Tuesday into a worldwide platform to take a blowtorch to the NFL by some of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ most heavily fined players.
Linebacker James Harrison, who has drawn $100,000 in fines this season for vicious hits, took aim directly at commissioner Roger Goodell’s enhanced crackdown of illegal tackles.
"I don’t want to hurt nobody. I don’t want to step on nobody’s foot or hurt their toe. I don’t want to have no dirt or none of this rubber on this field fly into their eye and make their eye hurt,” Harrison said during the Steelers’ session inside Cowboys Stadium. “I just want to tackle them softly on the ground, and if you all can, we’ll lay a pillow down where I’m going to tackle them, so they don’t hit the ground too hard . . . Mr. Goodell."
Harrison also lambasted the NFL’s insistence that an 18-game schedule should be part of a new collective bargaining agreement with its players, saying the league’s stance is about greed without regard to player safety.
“It would be absolutely ludicrous to go to an 18-game schedule, especially with the way my body’s feeling now. You’re talking about 18 games and possibly another three or four games depending on what position you are in the playoffs, so you’re looking at 22 games before it’s all said and done,” Harrison said. “That takes a terrible toll on your body. I don’t feel like it’s a good idea. I don’t feel like it’s the thing to do.
“They’re so worried about player safety, yet they want to add two more games to give you another 150, 175 plays to possibly get hurt or injured. Just making it through a whole season without sustaining any injuries is hard enough when it’s only 16 games and they want to add two more. It’s not really player safety that they’re worried about. They want to do whatever makes them more money, and adding two more games makes them more money.”
This season, Harrison was fined $75,000 for a helmet hit on Browns wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi; $20,000 for driving his helmet into the back of Saints quarterback Drew Brees; $5,000 for a hit on Titans quarterback Vince Young and, most recently, $25,000 in early December for sticking his helmet into the chest of Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. The fine on the Massaquoi hit later was reduced to $50,000.
Throughout the season, Harrison threatened retirement, saying the enhanced-hits policy and the fines he continues to reap have sapped his love for the game. Tuesday he said he has reconsidered that idea.
"At the time, it was something that was really serious for me,” Harrison said. “Stepping back and having time to look at it and evaluate the whole situation, it was a heat-of-the-moment decision, not well thought out, not planned out. After having time to sit back and look at it and think about the whole situation, it was just not the thing to do."
On a soundstage nearby, another Steelers star known for his physical play spoke out about the impasse between the NFL and the NFL Players Association as the CBA between the two sides is set to expire March 4.
Wide receiver Hines Ward — the Steelers’ all-time leading receiver who also is known for his punishing downfield blocks — said Super Bowl XLV between the Steelers and Green Bay Packers could be the last NFL game fans will see for quite a while if the league follows through with a player lockout.
“This is a huge thing. This may be our last game. A lot of people don’t understand,” said Ward, who wore his jersey and ditched the cowboy hat and big belt buckle he wore into town Monday when the Steelers arrived in Dallas-Fort Worth.
“Come March 4, we don’t have insurance. They’re stripping away our insurance, so if you get a major injury in this game and you’ve got to have surgery, at the end of the day they aren’t going to pay for rehab. This is a serious matter. I think it’s flying under the radar. A lot of players are real concerned."
Ward also was asked about some controversial comments he made recently in an article in GQ magazine, quoting eight NFL players on the topic of violence in their game.
Ward told GQ the NFL isn’t clear on what constitutes a legal tackle and one that will hit hard at a player’s wallet.
“We don’t know what they want,” said Ward, who was voted the NFL’s “dirtiest player” by his peers in a 2009 Sports Illustrated article and has been fined repeatedly for unnecessary roughness. “They’re so hypocritical sometimes. They came out with these new helmets that are supposed to stop concussions. If they care so much about our safety, why don’t they mandate that we wear the new ones? If they’re so worried about what concussions will do to us after our careers, then guarantee our insurance for life. And if you’re going to fine me for a hit, let the money go to veteran guys to help with their medical issues.
“To say the league really cares? They don’t give a (expletive) about concussions. And now they want to add on two extra games? Are you kidding? Come on, let’s be real.”
On Tuesday, Ward didn’t back down and continued to accuse the NFL of hypocrisy — leading its players toward two more regular-season games while fining them excessively for playing aggressively in a violent sport.
“All money is not good money,” Ward said. “You may get paid more, but all you’re doing is driving more injuries. Leave it like it is. It’s great as it is. . . . Add two more games, those extra checks are not worth it, having more stuff done to you that will affect you later on in life. I don’t want it.”
Ward also summed up how many feel about a looming lockout/work stoppage if the NFL and its players don’t reach an agreement soon.
“It’s a bad situation,” he said. “We make way too much money, too much revenue to be in this situation and have a lockout.”