Super Bowl: Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison stays in the spotlight for his hard hits

The Post Sports Live panel discusses James Harrison as the poster boy for illegal hits in the NFL this season, and whether the league is concerned at all by his presence in the Super Bowl.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 2, 2011; 12:05 AM

ARLINGTON, TEX. - After the NFL announced its crackdown on hits to the head in October, one player seemed to stand out for the continued attention he drew from league officials.

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison was fined $100,000 this season, sparking an enduring conflict between his team and the league over how the rules were enforced.

The Steelers have said they've put the issue behind them after advancing to their third Super Bowl in the last six seasons. But it has been clear in the two days since they arrived for Sunday's game that their differences with the league remain unresolved.

"I believe if you look at the film, you'll see guys that hit quarterbacks the same way that I do, if not worse, and they aren't flagged [for penalties] and they aren't fined either," Harrison said at Super Bowl media day Tuesday at Cowboys Stadium.

Harrison said he "felt like they might have been looking for a poster boy to implement their rule, and they just chose me."

Ray Anderson, the NFL's executive vice president of football operations, called Harrison's comments about unequal enforcement of the rules "misdirected" and said Tuesday: "Neither he nor anyone else was singled out. But he was a repeat offender and he was held accountable for that."

Anderson, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and other league officials have said they believe that players have begun to adjust the way they play the sport in the wake of the enforcement crackdown. Goodell and other league leaders have called the tougher enforcement necessary in the bid to eliminate dangerous techniques from the game that potentially lead to players suffering head injuries.

"We clearly over the course of the season saw players changing their approach- lowering their targets, refraining from gratuitous hits," Anderson said Tuesday. "Players adapted to play within the rules. There is no question in our minds it had the desired effect and we got more compliance with those rules."

The league stressed all season that it was enforcing existing rules, not creating new prohibitions on hits. Those existing rules prohibit hits to the head of players deemed to be in defenseless positions during games, including quarterbacks delivering passes and wide receivers in the process of making catches.

A spokesman said Tuesday the league did not have totals available for the fines assessed this season for illegal hits but the number of fines assessed for unnecessary roughness - a broader category that would include the fines for illegal hits to the head- decreased sharply, from 460 during the 2009 season to 261 this season.

Harrison was fined a total of $100,000, and he and other Steelers players have been highly critical of the league's approach. The criticism of the league was so intense at times that club president Art Rooney II said Tuesday he once feared the issue would affect the team's play.

"I was afraid it could be a distraction at times," Rooney said. "But our guys stuck together and did the best they could to get through it."

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