James Harrison started a firestorm yesterday when excerpts from his interview with Men’s Journal (and picture above) spread quickly like a wildfire across the internet and the sports world.  If you’re wondering why I’m using all the fire analogies, one of Harrison’s most notable quotes was this beauty about a hypothetical situation where NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was lit on fire…

“My rep is James Harrison, mean son of a bitch who loves hitting the hell out of people,” he says. “But up until last year, there was no word of me being dirty — till Roger Goodell, who’s a crook and a puppet, said I was the dirtiest player in the league. 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.”

Happy lockout.  Here’s a tip James – if you’re going to talk about hating your boss and refusing to even piss on his conflagrated body, it’s best not to do it on the slowest sports day of the year.  Word gets out.  But, as the quote above and the rest of the Men’s Journal excerpt proved, there’s really only one newsworthy story out of this whole interview.  James Harrison is an idiot and an embarrassment to sports.

You can start with the quotes that publicly call out his teammates.  Saying Ben Roethlisberger should “stop trying to act like Peyton Manning” or calling Rashard Mendenhall a “fumble machine” isn’t the best way to build togetherness in the locker room.  The comments about Goodell are inflammatory and insensitive, but won’t those quotes about his teammates do more damage in the Pittsburgh locker room?

Then there is Harrison’s whining about the fines he received due to hits like these.  I despise the NFL’s hypocrisy on “safety” as much as anyone.  (How can a league proclaim to be protecting its players while pushing an 18 game schedule?)  But Harrison can’t be serious about these tough guy quotes.  Remember how he said he would quit the league after being fined $75,000 for his hit on Browns WR Mohamed Masaquoi?  I wish he would have walked away.  Then we wouldn’t have to hear him cry about his fines for illegal hits.  But that’s not even near the worst of the Men’s Journal interview of James Harrison…

Let’s focus on the Men’s Journal picture above showing Harrison with two handguns.  Words can barely describe the insensitivity and stupidity of this picture.  Where is his agent to tell him something like, “you know James, the NFL has had a little bit of an image problem with guns and crime, so maybe holding two guns for a major magazine expose isn’t the best idea.  Can’t you just be lifting weights instead?”  Just please tell me he had one inkling of a second thought about that picture.  Plaxico Burress shot himself in the leg with a gun, and that’s only slightly more insane and troubling than this picture.  

Think about the lives that are lost due to guns, the problems with guns in this country, the awful, countless stories of NFL players with guns, and the issue of the gun culture in the NFL… and James Harrison goes and takes that photograph?  Forget Roger Goodell and the NFL offices.  What does the Rooney family think of that picture?  What about NFL fans that have had their lives affected by gun violence?  How about the family of former Broncos player Darrent Willaims, gunned down on New Year’s Day in 2007.  That tragedy inspired ESPN to actually compile a “partial list” of NFL players shot since 2007.  And James Harrison thinks that picture is a good idea?  Sickening.

Finally, according to CBS New York, Harrison used a gay slur in the Men’s Journal piece to refer to Roger Goodell.  Aren’t we past this as a society yet?  It’s one thing for James Harrison to try and act like some sort of intimidating s.o.b. and pose with guns and be the bad boy of the NFL.  But this kind of neanderthalic behavior using a gay slur combined with the dumb quotes throughout the article and his horrifying picture puts his Men’s Journal into the rarified air of worst athlete interviews of all-time.  Juxtapose everything that Harrison did and portrayed in this interview with what Michael Irvin did earlier this week, appearing on the cover of Out Magazine and coming out in support of gay athletes:

“If anyone comes out in those top four major sports, I will absolutely support him,” says Irvin. “That’s why I do my radio show every day. When these issues come out, I want to have a voice to speak about them. I think growth comes when we share. Until we do that, we’re going to be stuck in the Dark Ages about a lot of things. When a guy steps up and says, ‘This is who I am,’ I guarantee you I’ll give him 100% support.”

At 45 years old, Irvin isn’t satisfied. A deeply religious man, he’s begun grappling with images of himself standing at heaven’s door. Irvin doesn’t think touchdowns are going to score him a ticket to eternity.

“The last thing I want is to go to God and have him ask, ‘What did you do?’ And I talk about winning Super Bowls and national titles,” Irvin says. “I didn’t do anything to make it a better world before I left? That would be scary.”

For all of the work that athletes like Sean Avery or Michael Irvin or others that stand up for equality in sports, there is a pigheaded idiot like James Harrison ready to undo it all.  Every time I think that professional sports is getting closer to breaking down the barrier against gay athletes, garbage like this hits the mainstream.  You may or may not even support something like gay marriage, but using slurs and discriminatory behavior by major pro athletes simply can’t be acceptable anymore.  Say what you will about Michael Irvin’s qualities as an announcer, but he has my respect and admiration as a man.  Something I can’t say about James Harrison.

About Matt Yoder

Award winning sportswriter at The Comeback and Awful Announcing. The biggest cat in the whole wide world.