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Has Harrison lost teammates with his words? Opinions vary

  • By NFL.com Wire Reports
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James Harrison's caustic comments about NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, two Pittsburgh Steelers teammates and others in a recent interview created anger, confusion and split opinions about the effects the linebacker's words will have.

Former NFL safety Rodney Harrison believes James Harrison will lose respect in the locker room after calling out fellow Steelers, but Men's Journal writer Paul Solotaroff, who authored the controversial article, disputes that notion, claiming the linebacker's teammates love him despite his penchant for speaking out of turn.

"I talked to (Steelers linebacker James) Farrior and (he) said, 'Listen, we thought the dude was straight crazy. We thought the guy had severe emotional problems,' " Solotaroff said on "The Dan Patrick Show" on Thursday. "And I'm not sure James has amended his opinion of Mr. Harrison, but he loves him, and so does everybody on that defense. They love this guy to pieces."

Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons echoed that sentiment during an interview on TSN Radio in Toronto.

Tomlin will fix Harrison situation
The Steelers are fortunate
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» Lombardi: Lack of contact part of issue
» Wyche: Ripping teammates goes too far
» Sapp: Leave Roethlisberger alone
» Watch: Bettis disappointed in Harrison
» Watch: Did Harrison cross the line?

"James is a guy that's misunderstood," Timmons said, via SportsRadioInterviews.com. "A lot of people think he's a bad person, but he just sometimes says some things that he shouldn't. I'm pretty sure he doesn't feel this way, he probably just got kind of mixed up with his words. But he's a great guy."

Solotaroff later appeared on NFL.com's "Dave Dameshek Football Program," where he spoke at length about his interview with Harrison. Solotaroff empathized with the linebacker's frustration at being made "the billboard villain for above-the-neck violence in the NFL," being fined a total of $100,000 last season.

"James is speaking for thousands when he issues those remarks," Solotaroff said. " ... I got to James in May of this year (for the interview), so let's count backwards. He'd had about eight months to seethe and stew about having been made the poster boy of the NFL concussion syndrome.

"James Harrison didn't invent helmet-on-helmet hits. He didn't perfect them; he's about 50 years behind the curve there. ... He just happened to have two crushing hits on a day that writers around the country called 'Black and Blue Sunday' last October when 11 guys were knocked out cold on the same day."

As for Harrison's comments criticizing Ben Roethlisberger for interceptions he threw in February's Super Bowl loss, Solotaroff made it clear the linebacker isn't the only Pittsburgh defender frustrated by the quarterback's sometimes-reckless style of play.

"I can say with some authority that there isn't a guy on that defense that's got a poster of Ben Roethlisberger on his bedroom wall," Solotaroff said.

ESPN reported that Harrison called Roethlisberger on Wednesday morning and explained his comments. Roethlisberger told ESPN that Harrison said Solotaroff twisted his words, and it wasn't his intention to criticize the quarterback.

Roethlisberger said he's taking Harrison at his word and that their relationship is "fine," but Solotaroff defended his reporting.

"Everything's cool between us, so I have told James that whatever he needs to do to get right with Ben is good by me," Solotaroff told Dameshek. "And, you know, James has three years left on that very lucrative deal. I think he fully intends to see it out. I'm not sure he intends to play another minute after those three years are up. But, three years, he has to share a sideline and locker room with Big Ben."

Harrison also called Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall a "fumble machine" for his fourth-quarter turnover in the Super Bowl loss. Mendenhall responded Wednesday on Twitter that he didn't have a problem with what Harrison said "because I know him." However, Mendenhall also included a link to his stats from last season, which show he didn't have a pattern of fumbling.

Rodney Harrison, a 15-year NFL veteran who last played in 2008, believes James Harrison hurt his persona in Pittsburgh with the negative public remarks about teammates.

"I think he loses respect in that locker room because guys look at him and say, 'He's a defensive leader, he's a guy that we're supposed to trust,' " Rodney Harrison told Patrick. "But all of a sudden, he's going behind their backs, talking in an interview about his quarterback and his running back.

"If you've got something to say, say it to those guys' faces, but don't go behind your guys' back. How can I trust you, how can I line up next to you if you're stabbing me in the back? I think it's a deep-rooted, internal feeling that he has. Somebody really needs to check on him. Maybe those hits to the head are really affecting him now."

NFL Network analyst and former player Warren Sapp shared Rodney Harrison's view about publicly ripping teammates.

"There are certain (lines) you just don't cross in a locker room," Sapp said on "NFL Total Access" on Wednesday. "There are three people in your organization you just don't cross -- your coach, your kicker and your quarterback."

But James Harrison's shots didn't stop with teammates. He described Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing, who served a four-game suspension last year for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs, as "juiced out of his mind."

When contacted Wednesday, Cushing's only response to Harrison's comments, according to the Houston Chronicle, was "I'll pray for him."

But Cushing's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, didn't hold back when asked about it.

"I thought (James Harrison's) comments were way out of line," Rosenhaus said Thursday on WQAM-AM in Miami, according to ProFootballTalk.com. "He doesn't know the first thing about Brian Cushing or Brian Cushing's situation. And to me, that's an awful thing to do to talk about people that you don't know, and that you don't know the first thing about them or their situation."

Most of Harrison's venom, though, was directed at Goodell, whom the linebacker called an anti-gay slur, "stupid," "puppet" and "dictator." Harrison also said: "If that man was on fire and I had to piss to put him out, I wouldn't do it. I hate him and will never respect him."

Solotaroff admitted to Dameshek that Harrison's homophobic remark was ill-advised.

"Obviously, the F-word was really unfortunate, and had he not said it on tape, I would've had a real moral quandary whether or not to put it in the piece," Solotaroff said. "But James didn't say it as a homophobic slur. He said it as an angry kid in the schoolyard. And you know the day they outlaw juvenility, then maybe you can really fine this guy, but I don't know, the guy was regressing, he was behaving like someone a lot younger than he is. But he's mad, and people who are mad say things they don't fully mean or understand in the moment of saying them."

Woodley said "there's a lot of animosity toward Goodell" because of the uptick in fines for flagrant hits.

"The fines, they were ill-advised and came out of nowhere, and it wasn't fair," Woodley said. "This is quite a bit of chunk of change -- you're talking about 20 to 75 grand taken out of your checks. A lot of guys may have kids, three or four mortgages. That hurts."

Harrison's agent, Bill Parise, defended his client, telling the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the comments to Men's Journal were made out of "bravado."

"I think people have to be careful not to read that and think those statements are anything more than expressions of feelings, particularly in regard to the commissioner," Parise said. "The commissioner fined James $100,000 last year. What do you want him to say, he's my best friend? James is a tough individual, and that's the type of language he uses."

Parise wouldn't allow the Post-Gazette to talk to Harrison, opting instead to explain his client's comments.

"I don't think we should get caught up in his cultural language," Parise said. "I think people will read that for what it is and move on. I don't think anyone truly believes James thinks the commissioner is the devil."

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told the Post-Gazette, "We are not commenting on any aspect of the story."

Whether or not Harrison will be punished for his comments -- specifically those lobbed at Goodell -- is a big question, but Solotaroff believes the lingering lockout will cloud the reactions of the league as well as the Steelers' organization.

"It's a fascinating legal question," Solotaroff told Dameshek. "James is not an employee of the National Football League at this moment, he's not an employee of the Pittsburgh Steelers. You know, to the extent that you can be locked out and fined or disciplined, I think there are some lawyers that would be very interested in looking at that carefully."

Said Rodney Harrison: "I think somebody from the Pittsburgh organization needs to sit this guy down and say, 'Shut up and play football. Play football better.' "

Solotaroff said his sources indicate the Steelers might not even be capable, or willing for that matter, to rein in James Harrison.

Solotaroff told Patrick: "I talked to a bunch of Steelers, and I said, 'Look, James is a guy who flies from the hip. Surely there have been internal problems with James,' and a couple of them said, 'Ya, but nobody messes with James, even the coaches. We're all afraid of him.' "

Solotaroff believes Harrison's exceptional play on the field -- he's a two-time All-Pro with 45 sacks in the last four seasons -- will keep him employed with the Steelers. If not, he shouldn't have a problem finding a paycheck.

"Here's a guy who never comes off the field, who played the entire 2010 season with two ruptured disks, couldn't push off his right leg, had no strength, very little explosion, and had 10 sacks and finished third in the Defensive Player of the Year voting," Solotaroff told Dameshek. "If they want to cut bait with James, there's this portly fellow in New York -- Ah, what's his name? Oh yeah, Rex Ryan -- who would be able to find a place for him at right outside linebacker. James is going to land on his feet."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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