Steelers' Harrison's strong words on Goodel
PITTSBURGH -- James Harrison is still seeking to regain his groove as a menace to quarterbacks after missing the first three games of the season following arthroscopic knee surgery, but the Pittsburgh Steelers all-pro linebacker is already in mid-season form when it comes to admonishing a favorite target: Roger Goodell.
Harrison told USA TODAY Sports that he doesn't believe the NFL Commissioner would be welcomed by players in the Steelers locker room, with bad blood lingering from discipline the league has handed out in recent years.
The ninth-year veteran has drawn multiple fines and was suspended for a game last season for flagrant hits that he deemed to be unintentional, and has felt he has been unfairly portrayed by the league as it cracks down on violence.
He says the ongoing battle between Goodell and the four players resisting discipline for their alleged roles in the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal -- with Tuesday's appeals hearing postponed and pending court cases -- crystallizes the sentiment that the commissioner wields too much power.
"You can see the writing on the wall," Harrison said. "At first it was just the Steelers, now there are other teams having problems. It wasn't an issue when it was just the Steelers.
"We were the only team that voted no on the CBA, for the reason of how much power it gave a certain individual," he added, referring to the ratification vote by players after the collective bargaining agreement was struck in July 2011. "We didn't feel it was going to be good for that to be in the deal. As you see, it has not worked out well."
Grumbling from players about Goodell's power have escalated since the bounty case was revealed in March, with the commissioner relying on broad power to pursue discipline in the case based on "conduct detrimental to the game" rather than through procedures set in place in the CBA for on-field violations.
Harrison says that the fact that Goodell could appoint a former to hear the appeals and rule on the bounty case -- which is being challenged by the implicated players who have demanded that Tagliabue recuse himself as Goodell did -- supports his view.
"He didn't have to remove himself from the case, but chose to do that," Harrison said. "That just shows you how much power he has."
During labor talks, though, the NFL Players Association was unable to wrest power from Goodell before striking the new CBA. Union chief DeMaurice Smith has said previously that economic goals achieved in the deal were a higher priority, although in recent months the NFLPA has amplified the issues it has with Goodell's power.
Asked if he has discontent with union leadership for agreeing to a CBA that didn't address the Commissioner's power in a way he deemed suitable, Harrison said: "I don't know about our union leadership. If it's my son and I'm bargaining, I wouldn't have agreed to signing a deal that players would have such a problem with."
One of the NFLPA's executive board members, quarterback Charlie Batch, is a Steelers teammate who was involved in negotiations. Harrison doesn't have a problem with the information coming from Batch -- "As a team, we were like ridiculously 'no' against the deal," he said -- but said that he believes some union reps for some teams were either too eager to end the lockout or misinformed.
"Some reps didn't know half of the stuff that was in there," Harrison said, "and some reps were like, 'Let's just play ball.' "
In any event, Harrison's feelings about Goodell underscore the challenging task the Commissioner has in establishing smoother relations with players.
The linebacker's displeasure with Goodell is such that he contends that he rejected a request from the NFL to donate a game jersey to be auctioned for charity.
He said, "I will walk through hell in gasoline drawers before I let you have my jersey."