PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison promises he’s not changing his aggressive style of play, even if the NFL and his own coach agree he must.
Harrison believes he is being unfairly targeted for hard hits that have drawn $125,000 in fines for four infractions since mid-October. His own teammates and at least one Baltimore Ravens player, linebacker Terrell Suggs, argued Wednesday the league is focusing extra and possibly unwarranted attention on any Harrison hit.
“Your guy over there, No. 92 (Harrison), I think he is red-flagged,” Suggs said during a conference call with Pittsburgh reporters. “The referees are kind of looking for him. Even if he breathes on a quarterback wrong, he might get a flag. … I think they are looking at him more closely than they are everybody else in the league.”
Harrison plans to appeal all fines. His appeals of a $75,000 fine for hitting Browns receiver Mohamed Massaquoi and a $20,000 fine for a blind side hit on Saints quarterback Drew Brees were rejected Monday. A day later, he was fined $25,000 for roughing Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
“It angers me, of course, that they’re taking absurd amounts of money from me for plays that I consider to be clean and legal hits,” Harrison said. “I’m sure if you asked 10 guys in the league, nine of them would say he’s not a dirty player. He’s a hard player. He’s just getting a bad (reputation) right now.”
While coach Mike Tomlin said Harrison probably should change his tackling style to conform to the NFL’s stricter enforcement of potentially dangerous hits, Harrison said he won’t.
“I’m not playing dirty,” he said. “I’m not doing anything that’s outside the lines. … There’s nothing malicious or illegal about the way I’m playing or I’m tackling guys, so I’m going to continue to play the way I’m playing.”
While the NFL threatened suspensions for repeat offenders when it began its stricter enforcement of player safety rules earlier this season, Harrison has not been suspended. League spokesman Michael Signora said there was no such penalty for the Fitzpatrick hit Sunday because it wasn’t flagrant.
“It was illegal because the initial contact with the defenseless quarterback’s chest was made with his helmet,” Signora said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. “It was not a late hit. It was not a hit to the head. And he pulled off the quarterback when they hit the ground. Although it was not flagrant, as a multiple offender of the rules in this area, Harrison received a significant fine.”
In response to that fine, safety Ryan Clark posted a Twitter message in which he promised the Steelers (8-3) would be “hitting harder and more vicious” Sunday against the Ravens (8-3) because they will get fined regardless.
Clark, the Steelers’ player representative, also contacted the NFL Players Association to complain about the league’s treatment of Harrison. And several teammates believe the three-time Pro Bowl linebacker is being repeatedly punished because his intense hitting potentially endangers some of the NFL’s marquee players.
“I feel the owners want to protect their quarterbacks, the franchise guys, the guys making the big bucks, the guys everybody comes to see,” linebacker James Farrior said. “Those are the people who fill the stands. When you have somebody like James Harrison hitting these guys and putting a hurting on them, sometimes they don’t want that. They don’t want the quarterbacks hit too hard.”
Partly because of Harrison’s latest fine, Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward ripped into the league, arguing the league toughened its player safety stance only because it wants to expand to an 18-game season.
“The league doesn’t care about us anyway,” Ward said. “They don’t care about the safety of the game. If the league was so concerned about safety, why are you adding two more games on? You talk about you don’t want players to drink … and all you see is beer commercials. You don’t want us to gamble, but then there are (NFL-endorsed lottery scratch-off games).”
Harrison also believes his Oct. 17 comments that he doesn’t mind hurting players as long as he doesn’t badly injure them may have led to the NFL’s close scrutiny of him. Two helmet hits by Harrison that day caused concussions by Browns receivers Massaquoi and Joshua Cribbs minutes apart during Pittsburgh’s 28-10 victory.
Harrison also is troubled because Broncos coach Josh McDaniels was fined $50,000 for not reporting that a videographer illegally taped a 49ers practice and Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan and Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson were fined $25,000 each for fighting, yet he was fined more for a non-penalized hit.
“It’s starting to look like it’s OK to cheat, it’s OK to fight, but if you hit somebody too hard, we’re going to fine you a whole bunch,” Harrison said. “Maybe it’s because I play for the Steelers, who knows?”