The NFL Lockout appears set to end any day now, with the owners potentially set to vote on approving the new collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players’ Association at their meetings on Thursday in Atlanta. It will start about a two-week roster movement frenzy that we have never seen in American team sports history.
But what’s not clear yet about the new CBA is whether it lessens the power of Commissioner Roger Goodell in disciplining his players. Of course, Goodell has become known as arguably the strictest commish in sports, and more than a few players, with the muzzle off during the lockout, have spoken out against Goodell.
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No player tore into Goodell like Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison did recently. Harrison is a former NFL Defensive Player of the Year (2008) who had possibly the greatest defensive play in Super Bowl history at the end of the first half of Super Bowl XLIII against the Arizona Cardinals in Tampa. He has long felt that Goodell singles him out and that the NFL’s rules against defenders leading with their heads is basically the “James Harrison Rule.” And he might be right.
By now you have to know what Harrison said about Goodell for an article in the August edition of Men’s Journal. Harrison called Goodell a "crook" and a "devil," among other insults.
"If that man was on fire and I had to piss to put him out, I wouldn't do it," Harrison told the magazine. "I hate him and will never respect him."
His other descriptions of the commissioner included an anti-gay slur, "stupid," "puppet" and "dictator."
The linebacker also questioned whether a black player is punished more for a hard hit on a white player than the opposite.
"I slammed Vince Young on his head and paid five grand, but just touched Drew Brees and that was 20," Harrison said. "You think black players don't see this s--- and lose all respect for Goodell?"
There was an expected media firestorm, and Harrison apologized a few days later, although it sure didn’t sound like something he wrote:
"I'll start by offering my apologies for some of the words that I said during the four days in May that Men's Journal was invited to my house to discuss what the NFL has recently been portraying as their attempts at 'player safety' rules and regulations," Harrison said in a statement, never mentioning the comments about Goodell specifically.
He went on to say the antigay slur directed at the commissioner "was not intended to be derogatory against gay people in any way. It was careless use of a slang word and I apologize to all who were offended by the remark. I am not a homophobic bigot, and I would never advocate intolerance of gay people."
So it was sort of a non-apology apology.
It has been a rough offseason for the Steelers. Rashard Mendenhall got in some hot water – and lost a major sponsor, which he is suing – for Tweeting about Osama bin Laden after he was killed by American SEALS. And team leader Hines Ward recently was arrested on suspicion of DUI.
This is a bit of a slippery slope on whether Goodell will suspend and/or fine Harrison. First of all, there’s the free speech issue. And second, technically Harrison wasn’t an employee of the NFL or the Steelers because the league had locked him out. Harrison didn’t have an active contract, didn’t have insurance, stuff like that. And third, as mentioned above, it’s not clear if some of Goodell’s power to discipline players will be stripped in the new CBA.
With all that said, WagerWeb has posted a NFL odds on how much Harrison will be fined (nothing on suspension) for his comments in the article. The fines are only from Goodell, not from the Steelers, who could well bring the hammer down on Harrison because it is such a family-oriented organization (although it didn’t really do anything to Ben Roethlisberger).
The favorite for NFL odds at -200 is a fine of between $10,000-$19,999, followed by $20K-$29,999 at +100. The longest shot at +800 is $50,000+.
Goodell earlier had vowed that he'd hold players accountable for their offseason conduct, but the NFLPA has said it would have an “issue” if Harrison is formally punished by the league. Goodell hasn’t let the free speech thing get in his way in the past. Chad Ochocinco was fined $25K for in-game Tweets, but that was also specifically forbidden. But Ochocinco also was fined $20K two seasons ago for using the word “bribe” in post-game comments – in fairness, he also waved a dollar bill at an official during the game.
I happen to think Harrison gets off scot-free on this because the last thing Goodell wants to do is deal with the NFLPA again after months of getting a labor deal done. Just speaking out against the commissioner or other players – unless you make threats or the like -- isn’t against the rules (speaking about officials is totally different). And it’s not like Harrison threatened Goodell.
Could the Steelers fine and/or suspend Harrison and maybe Goodell goes behind the scenes to ensure that happens? Definitely. But I would go with the $0 option on the Goodell fine on this prop at +400 on WagerWeb.