Harrison voices frustrations of many

BY Jason Whitlock • July 13, 2011

If you can, ignore the irresponsible picture of James Harrison holding two handguns, the disloyal swipes at teammates Ben Roethlisberger and Rashard Mendenhall, the taunting of linebacker Brian Cushing and the cracks on Rodney Harrison and Tedy Bruschi.

If you can, ignore the bluster, foul language and idiocy James Harrison unleashed in a Men's Journal profile story.

Focus on this: Harrison's hatred of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and what it signifies and means for the league.

Roger Goodell is the reason the lockout has stretched into July. Roger Goodell is the reason the players association hasn't folded and likely won't anytime soon. Roger Goodell is the glue and inspiration behind the players' resolve to stand united and firm throughout the summer.

Goodell, in the players' minds, symbolizes everything that's wrong with this labor dispute. Cowardly hypocrites want to squeeze the players for every dime while making no sacrifices themselves.

Goodell, the darling of the NFL media elite, is despised by the men he governs. He's seen as a phony and an opportunist.

Regular readers of my column know I'm fond of analogies playing off my favorite TV show, “The Wire,” the Baltimore drama about drug dealers, cops, politicians and lawyers.

Well, James Harrison is Omar Little, the principled, gay stickup man who became the unlikely transcendent character of the HBO show. In the Men's Journal story, if you dust away Harrison's bluster and foul language, the Pittsburgh linebacker basically calls the NFL's commissioner Maurice Levy, the slimy, crooked lawyer who profits from collaborating with drug kingpins.

In a nutshell, Harrison, labeled the “Hit Man” by Men's Journal, told Goodell: “I got the handguns. You got the briefcase. It's all in the game though, right?”

Harrison's view of Goodell is popular among NFL players. Goodell made the mistake of appointing himself judge, jury and prosecutor of the NFL's conduct policy. He then accentuated the error by becoming the face of the league's crackdown on helmet-to-helmet collisions and other violent hits.

Goodell fell in love with the camera and the glowing love letters penned by his media puppets. Rather than delegate the top-cop role to an underling, he took on the responsibility because it made him a star. That stardom has hurt his ability to negotiate a labor deal. Many of the players believe they are negotiating against someone who is evil and racist.

I don't know Goodell. I doubt he's evil and racist. I do believe the public roles he plays make it easy for the players to develop a highly negative opinion of him.

In a league predominantly populated by black players, Goodell's main roles are protecting the interests of 32 white owners, protecting the safety of the star white quarterbacks who drive ratings and suspending/fining rank-and-file players for embarrassing the owners or hurting the quarterbacks.

No one should be all that surprised by the vitriol Harrison hurled at Goodell.

“If that man was on fire and I had to piss to put him out, I wouldn't do it,” the heavily fined linebacker told Men's Journal. “I hate him and will never respect him.

“I slammed Vince Young on his head and paid five grand, but just touched Drew Brees and that was 20 (grand). You think black players don't see this s--- and lose all respect for Goodell?”

Paul Solotaroff, the author of the Men's Journal story, said on ESPN on Wednesday that he'd received countless messages from NFL players thanking James Harrison for giving voice to their view of, and feelings toward, Goodell.

Again, Goodell is quite popular with the NFL media elite. He is celebrated for disciplining spoiled, entitled, out-of-control athletes. The media loves Goodell for appearing to champion player safety.

The players see a hypocrite. They see a $10 million-a-year commissioner who won't suffer a reduction in salary when this lockout is over and never suffers an ounce of physical pain.

Harrison wears the shoulder pads and Goodell wears the suit. They both earn millions off Harrison's violence, but Goodell can earn for 20-plus years and walk away healthy.

Harrison called Goodell a “crook” and a “devil.” The words are harsh and over the top. They come from a real place.

Goodell has argued in favor of an 18-game schedule. You can't champion player safety and an expanded regular-season schedule. Well, you can when you earn an eight-figure salary and won't suffer the physical consequences of a lengthier schedule.

You can't suggest James Harrison is a dirty player, fine him several hundred thousand dollars for hits the league promotes and sells on DVDs.

When this lockout ends and a labor deal is struck, Goodell must immediately begin work on rehabilitating his image with NFL players. If he can't do it, he should be replaced in two or three years.

The partnership that existed (and worked well) between players and owners during the Gene Upshaw and Paul Tagliabue era will never be duplicated with this version of Goodell in the commissioner's office.