Steelers linebacker James Harrison has been threatened with a suspension if he doesn't relent and agree to an interview with the NFL regarding allegations that he and several other players -- including Packers linebacker Clay Matthews -- violated the NFL's substance abuse policy, namely the use of Performance Enhancing Drugs.
Harrison's name was first linked to PEDs last December, when Al Jazeera produced a documentary in-which Charlie Sly indicated he provided them to him while being secretly videotaped by an undercover journalist.
As far as anyone knows, Sly casually mentioning Harrison's name during the documentary is the only thing the NFL has as evidence against the decorated linebacker who was named Defensive Player of the Year in 2008.
Harrison has been consistent in claiming his innocence and has refused, time and time again, to be interviewed by league investigators.
For the most part, I agree with Harrison and feel the league is unjustly coming down on him by acting on accusations made by a person who has since recanted everything he said in the documentary.
Harrison is standing up for his rights and what he believes in. As he said on Tuesday, via CBSSports.com: "If that's the case [the NFL conducting an investigation just because Sly mentioned his name on a video], somebody could come on and say James Harrison is a pedophile. They are going to suspend me, put me under investigation for being a pedophile just because somebody said it? I'm not going to answer questions for every little thing some Tom, Dick and Harry comes up with."
The NFL probably has a little too much authority in this regard, but the only problem is, it was written into the Collective Bargaining Agreement the NFLPA agreed to in the summer of 2011 which ended the lockout.
Therefore, the NFL can suspend players for simply not cooperating. One would think the many drug tests Harrison has passed should be enough to pacify the league. And, as I said before, it’s probably safe to assume Harrison would already by suspended if the NFL had more than just Sly’s words as evidence.
So, Harrison, as strong-willed a player as there’s ever been, is going toe-to-toe with the NFL who has said he will be suspended if he doesn’t comply with an interview by August 26.
As you may have guessed, Harrison is willing to sit out for as long as he has to:
“Definitely,” Harrison said on Tuesday of his willingness to accept a suspension. “I’ll do what I have to do. They’ll do what they have to do. We’ll make that decision when the time comes....I’m just doing what I’m advised to do [by the NFLPA]. It’s the right thing to do.”
Is it the right thing, though? I realize Harrison is doing what his union wants him to do, but what about his teammates and his fans? What about himself and the work he put in this offseason?
At 38 years old, Harrison doesn’t have much time left to do the one thing he’s truly passionate about.
If Harrison wasn’t so passionate about football, he wouldn't pay the price he does each and every offseason to prepare his body for the rigors of an NFL season.
You mean to tell me Harrison put in all that work to get ready to play at his age, and he's going to sit out just to prove a point?
Unlike, say, a journalist who is willing to go to jail rather than give up a source, a football player only has so many years to do what he loves.
If Harrison does get suspended, it's obviously going to last as long as it takes for him to give in and agree to the NFL's demands. That might be cool if he was 28, but at 38, it could mean the end of a very good career.
As a wise man once said regarding marriage: "Pick your battles."
While most people are certainly on his side--including his teammates and fans--is it really worth it at this point?
Peyton Manning was cleared of any wrongdoing after he finally relented to an interview, and, again, unless the NFL has more evidence than anyone knows about, I'd like to think Harrison's name would be cleared if he cooperated.
The Steelers need Harrison on the football field more than the NFLPA needs him to prove a point to the league. Furthermore, Harrison probably needs to play football more than he needs to win a battle of wills with the commissioner of the NFL.
At the end of the day, is this really a fight James Harrison needs to win?