Harrison's trash-talking, hard-hitting, I-don't-give-a-damn personality is all fine and good. It's part of what makes him such a feared linebacker. But the other part that makes him feared — the reckless, cheap-shotting, nonsensical style of play he brings to the table — is what's beginning to overshadow the success he's achieved throughout his career.
Now that he's forced to serve a one-game suspension for his hit on Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy, Harrison's name is once again grabbing headlines for the wrong reasons. And given Harrison's response to the one-game ban, it's evident that he's more concerned about maintaining his bad-boy image than reconciling with commissioner Roger Goodell or making a concerted effort to harness his emotions and play within the confines of the league's rules.
"Lol!!!," Harrison tweeted on Tuesday, seemingly in reference to his suspension, before eventually thanking his supporters. But with the Steelers deadlocked with the Ravens at 10-3 in the AFC North, it's hardly a laughing matter for the Pittsburgh D, as it gets set to try to contain Frank Gore and the NFC West-leading 49ers on Monday night.
But Harrison's decision to sweep the issue under the rug shouldn't come as a surprise. After all, this is the same guy who threatened to retire after being fined $75,000 last season, and the same guy who called Commissioner Goodell a "crook" and a "devil" this past summer, before going as far to say, "If that man was on fire and I had to piss to put him out, I wouldn't do it."
Well, Goodell is finally fighting back with his best weapon — the ability to take Harrison off the field. And if Harrison continues to exhibit such recklessness going forward, it might not be the last time the Steelers are forced to play without a guy they locked up through 2014.
The four-time Pro Bowler was fined $125,000 in 2010 for taking what were considered illegal or unnecessary shots, but reaching into a player's pocket doesn't come close to sending the message that a suspension does.
Former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, a player who frequently tip-toed the line during his career, even admitted such, saying that fines didn't bother him as a player and that he put money aside for fines before the season began. So while last season's fines clearly aggravated James Harrison, to the point where had to put on a show about a potential retirement, it's become increasingly obvious that his bickering is more a response to Goodell exercising his power and going against the linebacker's opinion.
With the NFL laying down the hammer with its recent suspension, though, Harrison not only loses out on a game check, which ESPN.com reports is worth $73,529, but the Steelers are backed into a corner. Basically, as long as Harrison shows a blatant disregard for the NFL's rules, they too are in jeopardy of being punished.
The thought of letting down the Steelers and the city of Pittsburgh should be enough to force Harrison to alter his game. It's one thing when you're hurting yourself, but it's another when the team is forced to make up for your transgressions. And that's what Harrion's career has become: a series of transgressions.
He's one of the game's premier defensive players and a cornerstone of what is consistently one of the best defenses in the NFL. As a result, he's feared. Even without the trash-talking and the head-hunting, Harrison is an exceptional player. But it's gotten to the point where those extracurriculars have become a constant part of his game, and the result is this persona that he's more concerned about latching onto than anything.
Harrison can disagree with the recent suspension all he wants, and we can speculate that it was handed down largely because of his previous track record. But why shouldn't we hold his track record against him? If he's shown an unwillingness to adapt to the NFL's current guidelines as it pertains to hits to the head in the past, and then delivers what looks to be a clear violation of the rules, why should the league elect not to suspend him?
The idea that the league has become "soft" isn't entirely inaccurate, as it's obvious there appears to be less of a mean streak in players now than there once was. And, in many ways, that's why Harrison's toughness and physicality, both of the throwback mold, are a breath of fresh air.
But there is still a line that can be crossed, and Harrison consistently crosses it. And until he stops doing so, we'll be forced to debate how "dirty" a player he is, rather than how "great" a player.