Steelers linebacker James Harrison isn't afraid to use his first amendment rights to proclaim his support for his second amendment rights.
The question is whether his recent statements indicating the shooting of Kasandra Perkins and suicide of Chiefs LB Jovan Belcher resting on the alleged shooter, and not on the handgun he used, are worth mentioning.
The freedom of speech guaranteed to all Americans as part of our constitutional rights pertain to the government's inability to censor our speech. It doesn't guarantee that same freedom against an employer, for example, nor does it guarantee our right to be heard.
Steelers fill-in wide receiver Plaxico Burress, a notorious gun owner at least at one point in his life, backed up our right to not listen by saying basically nothing at all.
Harrison's views, recently quoted in USA Today, are certainly valid, and, when state and federal laws are followed, citizens are allowed to own, and in some cases, carry, firearms. Dipping into the topic when in the public eye is a matter of relevancy and importance more than it's about constitutional rights.
Harrison has never been shy about expressing his opinions, and he's given lowly hacks like myself plenty of fodder over the years - both for his actions on the field and his opinions off it. This isn't a message of chastising Harrison for his views, but rather, an expression of over the validity of voicing his concerns at a time of extreme sensitivity.
Not that sensitivity should be the letter of the law. It just seems like an open invitation for public scrutiny at a time his job - which is assumed to be his top priority after the well-being of his family and himself - requires his full concentration.
The entire situation involving Belcher and Perkins will no doubt receive plenty of scrutiny from a political and a social perspective. As the Chiefs move through an unimaginably horrible end to an otherwise dismal season, both sides of the nationwide debate on gun control will be vociferously opposed and defended.
And to an extent, those who will likely paint Harrison as a gun-toting lunatic aren't acting any more responsibly than they're accusing Harrison of acting. It's a safe bet to assume professional athletes do not frequent this space often, and the opinions expressed on here are not made from the context of a person who's every word is hung on as part of a job that pays millions of dollars each year.
It's difficult for those opposing a citizen's right to bear arms to hold those opinions knowing what it's like to live - whether through desire or not - so closely in the public eye.
Not to draw a direct correlation, but a story was written on Behind The Steel Curtain Dec. 5 about a fan in Baltimore allegedly challenging Steelers safety Ryan Clark to a fight as he walked off the field at M&T Bank Stadium. Clark told the story as a point of humor, and it was written here in a similar fashion.
Not to create an inappropriate comparison, but clearly, Ryan Clark - by all accounts a fine and upstanding pillar of the community, father and law-abiding citizen - was a significant target of agitation for doing nothing but playing for a team other than the one for which the fan was rooting.
This isn't singling out Baltimore, as most who frequent live sporting events can tell tales of the behavior of fans who dress up under the colors of a certain group and indulge in lives outside of their normal ones (I'm sure there's at least one like that donning the black and gold each week). But what if Clark is recognized somewhere in that normal world by a fan unable to distinguish the line between extreme fandom and a society with rules and restrictions?
Is it that hard to think those people exist in our society? Professional athletes are targeted all the time. At the risk of perpetuating the point I'm making, I won't publish the amount or names of any child or children borne to Clark but let's just say it wasn't hard to find personal information on him.
Harrison's point may not be the most eloquent most will hear on the topic of gun control, but he's speaking about protection from a perspective difficult for average schmos like myself to understand.
That being said, maybe the best way to speak out on the topic - one he certainly has the right to speak on - is to discuss safety as opposed to protection. Speak to current players of the league to seek mental help if their colleagues are having difficulties in their lives.
In writing the story Saturday, my immediate thought was about the chaos that must have been going on in Belcher's mind. The sheer nightmare in which he must have been living. Nothing can condone what he is accused of doing, but something or someone may have been able to help had they both known of his thoughts and were in a position to act, getting help for their teammate, friend and family member.
Claiming the right guaranteed under the second amendment of the constitution when discussing this incident is perfectly fine. Perhaps, though, Harrison and others in the public eye should speak more to the greater issue here, which isn't the direct cause of two horrible deaths that left a child without parents, but rather, the chain of events that led to that gun being fired so many times.