James Harrison Refusing NFL’s Interview is the Right Choice

Jan 17, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison (92) against the Denver Broncos during the AFC Divisional round playoff game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 17, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison (92) against the Denver Broncos during the AFC Divisional round playoff game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

Even though he faces a suspension if he doesn’t comply with the NFL’s interview over steroid accusations, Steelers linebacker James Harrison is making the right decision by refusing to give into the league’s demands.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is notorious for taking disciplinary matters into his own hands. Player suspensions ranging from controlled substances to domestic violence to the deflation of footballs have all ultimately come at the discretion of Goodell, due process be damned.

Goodell’s latest mission: suspend NFL players who were listed in the now-infamous Al Jazeera report, “The Dark Side”, which chronicled steroid usage and distribution among professional athletes.

The common response to this news, understandably, is for the athletes to just do the interviews and avoid any suspensions. The NFL’s premise is that by not cooperating, the accused players are obstructing the league’s investigation of the report. It’s not that cut-and-dry, however.

Charlie Sly, the supposed steroid dealer documented in the “The Dark Side”, promptly posted a response after the report was released. He certainly didn’t help anybody’s cause but the NFL’s:

Goodell’s only real piece of evidence is that Sly mentioned Harrison by name in the documentary. This awkward and terribly-executed response from Sly paints the allegations as true, to be sure, but the affiliated players cannot automatically be considered guilty because of it.

For James Harrison, this is no longer a matter of discipline. It’s a matter of respect.

Harrison is famous for receiving frequent drug tests. He’s sparred with the NFL over wanting to record random tests. On Tuesday, Harrison was forced to participate in another “random” test. Keep in mind that Harrison has never failed one of the many tests he’s had to take.

The chief sign of disrespect by the NFL, however, came in the rejection of Harrison’s sworn affidavit. In the document, Harrison asserts that “…to the best of my knowledge and recollection, I have never met with the individual who is apparently named Charles Sly”. Harrison also denies receiving or using the “Delta 2” steroid which Sly refers to. 

Matthews, Peppers, and Neal each also sent affidavits to the NFL. In response, the league formally rejected all of them.

This is where the Roger Goodell is a power hungry lunatic narrative becomes personified.

When the Deflategate saga was at its peak, I was one of the harshest critics of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. What I failed to realize then was just how much Goodell was asserting his own brand of justice on a case that was cluttered with unreliable evidence.

With that said, it would seem I owe Patriots fans an apology. I won’t give them one, because they’re still too arrogant, but I’ll admit the previous error in my thinking.

Digressions aside, Goodell’s ruling on Deflategate is drawing parallels to his upcoming ruling on the players listed in the Al Jazeera report. Despite questionable evidence, Goodell is prepared to lay down suspensions unless the players comply with his request for sit-down interviews.

Harrison refusing to partake in the NFL’s interview is the right decision not just personally, but for all players across the league.

First, conducting the interview does not guarantee anything for Harrison, Matthews, Peppers or Neal. Given the canned denial from Sly and the absence of evidence otherwise, Goodell may very well still distribute suspensions regardless of what the players say. If the league didn’t accept their denials in sworn affidavits, why would they believe them now?

Second, the evidence against the players is purely spoken word. In the Al Jazeera video, Sly claims to have supplied Harrison, Matthews, Peppers and Neal with PEDs, but there are no known written documents, photos or videos of such transactions occurring. Essentially, Goodell is ready to hand down punishment over gossip.

Now-retired Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, also listed in the report, was cleared by the NFL last month after undergoing an interview. That would seem like a green light for the other accused players to speak as well, but Manning’s retirement is a key factor. The NFL would’ve been foolish to tarnish Manning’s retirement and Super Bowl-winning finale by clinging to these accusations, and he had no games to lose through suspension.

The NFL doesn’t hold any of the other accused players in the same regard as Manning – especially Harrison. Don’t think for a second this won’t affect the league’s judgment.

By refusing the NFL’s interview, James Harrison is reminding the league that its players are tired of complying under unfit circumstances. A couple paychecks can’t make up for the NFL’s lack of respect for its own athletes.

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Steelers fans will be bitter at Harrison for not complying. But sometimes, the players as a whole take precedent over the players of a team.

Given Goodell’s antics, this is certainly one of those times.