With self-inflicted controversy swirling around him, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison retreated into damage-control mode Thursday night, issuing a statement to apologize for some of the comments he made in a magazine interview.
Harrison issued his statement via Facebook and Twitter, explaining the thought process behind some of his more scathing comments, made during a four-day span in May and printed in the August edition of Men's Journal.
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"This statement will be my only response to the Men's Journal article," Harrison said on his Twitter account, with a link to the statement, in which he also clarified his stance on the NFL's safety concerns, his decision to be photographed holding guns for the magazine's cover and his use of a gay slur in reference to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
But Harrison's first order of business was to address comments he made about teammates Ben Roethlisberger and Rashard Mendenhall. The linebacker was critical of both players' performance in the Steelers' Super Bowl XLV loss to the Green Bay Packers, saying Roethlisberger, who threw two interceptions in the game, should "hand the ball off and stop trying to act like Peyton Manning" and calling Mendenhall a "fumble machine" because of his fourth-quarter turnover.
"I did make comments about my teammates when I was talking about the emotional Super Bowl loss, but the handful of words that were used and heavily publicized yesterday were pulled out of a long conversation and the context was lost," Harrison said in the statement, which was first obtained by Josina Anderson of Denver's KDVR-TV. "Obviously, I would never say that it was all Ben's or Rashard's fault that we lost the Super Bowl. That would be ridiculous. Both Ben and Rashard are great players and great teammates.
"Clearly the entire team bears responsibility for the loss, me included. It was a team effort and a team loss. My teammates know me well, and hopefully understand the things I said were not meant to accuse them of the loss. We all have discussed several things that went wrong in the Super Bowl since that day. What I do apologize for and take full responsibility for is for speaking in such a candid manner to someone outside the team."
ESPN reported Wednesday that Harrison called Roethlisberger and explained his comments. Roethlisberger told ESPN that Harrison said Paul Solotaroff, the author of the article, twisted his words, and it wasn't his intention to criticize the quarterback. Roethlisberger added that he's taking Harrison at his word and their relationship is "fine."
Despite Harrison's claim that his words were taken out of context, Solotaroff defended his story.
"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 said Thursday on the "Dave Dameshek Football Program" on NFL.com. "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."
While Harrison also said negative things about Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing and former New England Patriots players Rodney Harrison and Tedy Bruschi, the linebacker reserved most of his vitriol for Goodell, whom he called a "crook" and a "devil." Harrison also said in the article of Goodell, "I hate him and will never respect him."
Harrison didn't apologize to Goodell in the statement, instead explaining the context in which he used a homophobic term when referring to the commissioner.
"I also need to make clear that the comment about Roger Goodell was not intended to be derogatory against gay people in any way," Harrison wrote. "It was careless use of a slang word, and I apologize to all who were offended by the remark. I am not a homophobic bigot, and I would never advocate intolerance of gay people."
Harrison explained that much of his frustration stems from league rules that are, in his opinion, misguided at best. He received $100,000 in league-issued fines last season for flagrant hits.
"I believe that the league may have been feeling increasing pressure about injuries and concussions last year, and that they panicked and put rules in place that weren't fully thought out," Harrison wrote. "I'm not advocating more flags and fines, I'm just saying that the current rules are not completely fair, and I don't believe in the way that the league is handling their position as overseer of the NFL and the well-being of its players.
"As far as the character and reputation hits I may suffer as a result of my comments in the article, I'll take those hits and more if it brings increased attention to the re-examination and installation of rules and regulations that would create a REAL impact on player safety."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.