It’s no secret that the NFL has been struggling to find solutions to players’ safety.
No matter how many new regulations the league attempts to implement, there are always players and coaches that slip through the cracks.
Enter former Pittsburgh Steelers starJames Harrison.
Harrison said Steelers’ head coach Mike Tomlin gave him an envelope after he delivered a dangerous helmet to helmet hit on defenseless Cleveland Browns receiver Mohamed Massaquoi in 2010.
“The G-est thing Mike Tomlin ever did, he handed me an envelope after that,” Harrison said. “I’m not going to say what, but he handed me an envelope after that.”
The hit was not flagged during the game even though it resulted in a concussion for Massaquoi. Harrison was initially fined $75,000 from the league but it was later reduced to $50,000.
“Listen, on everything I love, on my daddy’s grave, I hit that man with about 50 percent of what I had, and I just hit him because I wanted him to let loose of the ball,” Harrison said on the podcast. “If I had knew they was gonna fine me $75,000, I would have tried to kill him.”
Harrison’s mentality is bad enough, given then thousands of concussion lawsuits filed by former players. In 2018, the NFL issued an estimated $1 Billion settlement to these former players who accused the league of hiding what it knew about the link between concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disease found in dozens of former players after their deaths.
But the implication that Tomlin is the heavy in a possible Bountygate II means a real black eye for the league. Harrison’s admission of the alleged envelope only brings more questions to the surface about what was truly going on in Pittsburgh and around the NFL during those years.
Steelers president Art Rooney II issued a statement later Thursday denying Harrison’s claims.
“I am very certain nothing like this ever happened,” Rooney said. “I have no idea why James would make a comment like this but there is simply no basis for believing anything like this.”
Rooney doesn’t explain how he could be “very certain,” but Bill Parise, who is Harrison’s advisor and former agent, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on Thursday that these events Harrison said on the podcast had not transpired.
“Absolutely not,” said Parise, who was unaware of Harrison’s comments until contacted by the paper. “Never happened. I would have known that. It didn’t happen. James and I are still together. We were really close during our 18 years. He would have said something along the way.”
The league has already struggled with numerous scandals involving bounties on players’ during games.
On a Thanksgiving Day Game in 1989, things got chippy between the Cowboys and the Eagles and prompted then Cowboys’ head coach Jimmy Johnson to accuse Eagles’ head coach Buddy Ryan of placing bounties on two of his players (former Eagles kicker Tony Zendejas and Troy Aikman).
The games between the teams that season were deemed “Bounty Bowls.” The Eagles were not assessed any punishments from the league office that season.
The New Orleans Saints are the most notable organization in recent memory to be impacted by the league’s bounty problem.
Head coach Sean Payton was suspended for the entire 2012 season, assistant head coach, Joe Vitt was suspended for the first six games of that same season, and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was suspended indefinitely by the league until the decision was overturned the next year.
Also, four Saints players were initially suspended by the NFL, until their suspensions were vacated by an appeals panel. It gave the players an opportunity to play in the 2012 season opener.
Even Payton, who is obviously still upset from how the league handled Bountygate, was asked about Harrison’s comments Thursday during a radio interview on Baltimore’s 105.7 The Fan and said that the league will soon forget about this incident.
”Listen, don’t get me started on that. I lost $6 million in salary. And honestly it was something that I’ll never truly get over because I know how it was handled and how it was run and the reasons behind it. And that’s just the truth.” Payton said. “That’ll be something that’s tucked away or under the rug at Park Avenue.”
The NFL continues to find itself in messes dealing with player safety. For a league so desperately looking to gain positive publicity, it continues to lose ground.
Harrison’s comments are only the latest example.