FORT WORTH (AP) – James Harrison took a few more hard shots at the NFL.
A day after sarcastically suggesting a pillow could be used to soften blows he delivers to opposing players, the Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker called the league’s talk about wanting to protect players “a show.”
Harrison said before Wednesday’s practice leading up to Sunday’s Super Bowl that the owners’ push for an 18-game regular season and the possibility of a lockout prove the NFL is more interested in maximizing revenue than the health of its players.
“It’s not about player safety,” Harrison said. “It’s about them making money.”
Among key issues the NFL and union are expected to discuss over the next several weeks include the league’s push to extend the regular season from 16 games to 18; a rookie wage scale; benefits for retired players; and the owners wanting players to cede an additional $1 billion of the gross revenues up front.
“I don’t think it’s a good thing if you’re so worried about player safety,” Harrison said of an 18-game season, calling it “crazy.”
“You don’t go and lock your players out and take away the health insurance from people that have wives and kids on the way,” he added. “You lock us out and health insurance is gone.”
The NFL declined comment on Harrison’s remarks.
Steelers owner Dan Rooney recently came out against the idea of an extended season, something Harrison believes will hurt the owners’ cause.
“He’s the main voice,” Harrison said. “He’s the most respected voice, I believe. He came out and said it, exactly what it was, what it is. It’s about them making money. It’s not about us, them talking about player safety. They’re doing all this fine stuff. That’s a show, something to give the people to look at.”
Harrison was fined $100,000 by the NFL for illegal hits this season, and even briefly went so far as to threaten to retire because he said it was too difficult to adjust to the new way rules were being enforced.
“It was a hotheaded decision,” he said. “You can sit back and look at it for what it was. And when I sat back, there are some things you can’t control and everything happens for a reason. Looking at the fines, I feel most of them were not justified. Seems like they needed somebody to be the poster guy for their rule and I seemed to be the biggest name out there at the time. So, they chose me, I guess.”
The league and the players’ union face an early March deadline for trying to negotiate a new labor agreement.
“It’s no doubt to me,” said Harrison, whose Steelers play the Green Bay Packers for the NFL championship Sunday. “I believe they’re going to lock us out.”
And, Harrison insisted it won’t just affect the players and teams.
“I think if they lock us out, they’ll lose a lot of fans,” he said. “To be honest, it’s not going to kill us. It’s going to kill those people that rely on that year-in and year-out seasonal income, those bars and restaurants, mom-and-pop shops.”
At Tuesday’s media day at Cowboys Stadium, Harrison said he feels as if the league was “looking for a poster boy” when it started fining him.
In a deadpan delivery, Harrison said: “I don’t want to hurt nobody. I don’t want to step on nobody’s foot or hurt their toe. I don’t want to have no dirt or none of this rubber on this field fly into their eye and make their eye hurt.
“I just want to tackle them softly on the ground and, if y’all can, we’ll lay a pillow down where I’m going to tackle them, so they don’t hit the ground too hard, Mr. Goodell.”
Asked on Wednesday whether he’s worried about the dangers of concussions from violent hits on the field, he was defiant, as expected.
“My style of play is how you’re supposed to play the game,” he said. “It’s no more dangerous for me than it is for anybody else. That’s part of the risk you take. There’s risks with everything you do. You’ve just got to try and minimize the risk and if something happens, it happens. Everything happens for a reason. Like everything else that you can’t control, it’s in God’s hands. … Since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, that’s how you play the game.”
Someone wondered if the league might be trying to eliminate the violent hits Harrison has become known for.
“If you want to get it totally out of the game, put flags on us,” he said. “We’ll tag off and pull flags off each other and we’ll see how popular the game is then and how many people come to watch it.”
Speaking of watching, Harrison isn’t concerned that officials will be following his every move — and hard hit.
“If I’m worried about officiating, I’m not going to be able to focus on what I do,” he said. “I’ll just play the game out and if they make calls that are questionable, it’s just something you’ve got to live with.”
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