News came out earlier today that Steelers LB James Harrison was suspended for one game due to his hit on Cleveland Browns QB Colt McCoy. He has three days to appeal the suspension and the NFL has indicated they will expedite the appeal. Art Shell or Ted Cottrell will hear the appeal and the suspension is unlikely to be overturned.
Harrison would serve the suspension this week meaning he would sit out Monday Night Football agains the 49ers. That is quite significant given what he brings to the Steelers pass rush. Whether or not the Steelers have LaMarr Woodley back at the other OLB position, losing Harrison stings.
I initially wrote about the possibility of suspension yesterday and it brought out Steelers fans in defense of Harrison. Naturally this led to plenty of back and forth about Harrison and whether or not he is a dirty player and whether or not the league is picking on him to a certain extent.
Plenty of people here have dogged Harrison for his actions and called him a dirty player. As Steelers fans have defended him, it got me to thinking about the idea of "bad guys" in sports. I don't mean bad people, but more just the idea that there are players out there that you can't stand if they are on the opposite sideline, but you will defend to the end if they are on your team. A non-football example is catcher A.J. Pierzynski. Opposing fans and even opposing players can't stand him, but his teammates and fans will generally support him (or at least put up with him).
I don't know if every single team has such a "bad guy" but I think a lot of teams have somebody on their sideline that draws the ire of opposing fans quite frequently. Following the Detroit Lions game, you could make the argument head coach Jim Harbaugh was that person for the 49ers. I don't think it's quite like that at this point, but much like the always exuberant Pete Carroll in Seattle, it is interesting to consider how fans around the league view a given coach.
With regards to Harrison, plenty of fans will call him out now, but if the shoe was on the other foot, I believe plenty of them would be providing support for him.
James Harrison is stuck in a situation where he would have been perfectly fine ten, fifteen years ago, and would have been in his element back in the 60s, 70s and 80s. Unfortunately for him, the NFL game is evolving. It is incredibly hard to legislate safety in such a high speed, high impact sport, but Harrison has to deal with it nonetheless.
While Harrison is breaking the rules of the league, I don't think it is so black and white to say he is a "dirty player." I think he has to figure out how to better play within the evolving rules of the league, but I'm not sure I am prepared to classify him as dirty. Dirty is a player that stomps on a player's arm after a player. His hits can be vicious and can cause serious injury, but in the context of the speed of the NFL, does that necessarily mean dirty?