NBC’s Rodney Harrison, who won two Super Bowls with the Patriots and played before that with the Chargers as part of a 15-year NFL career, helped shine a light on the value of suspensions to getting helmet-to-helmet hits out of the game with his comments during this week’s Football Night in America, Sunday Night Football, and in various videos available at NBCSports.com.
Harrison was quoted extensively by numerous media outlets throughout the day on Monday, and ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported Monday night that Harrison’s perspective directly influenced Commissioner Roger Goodell’s decision to take the matter seriously after multiple big hits during the Week Six games.
In a telephone interview conduct on Tuesday morning, Harrison shrugged at the attention.
“It’s just a topic I felt strongly about,” Harrison said. As to the reaction to his comments, he said that “it did surprise me a little bit, because this has been going on for years and no one has made a big deal about it.”
Harrison said that he’s troubled by the intensity of many of the hits exchanged by today’s players. “I’m so happy I’m not playing anymore,” he said. “If I’m cringing from some of these hits, what does that tell you?”
I asked him to reconcile his own playing style, which resulted in fines and ultimately a one-game suspension, with his concerns for player safety. Harrison said that, during his career, “I was in gladiator mode because that’s all I was taught.”
He added that there was no emphasis in his playing days on the consequences of brain injury. “I’ve had hundreds of concussions,” he said. “What would they tell me? ‘Take two Advil and get back in there.’”
Though he seems fine despite the concussions, Harrison said that he still gets headaches, especially when feeling overwhelmed. He also experiences sensitivity to light, most often when in the sun for extended periods of time. “I have effects from it, no question,” he said.
Harrison explained that he routinely played after suffering concussions. “I didn’t think about it because no one really talked about concussions.” he said. “They’d help me off the field and I’d be back four or five plays later.”
Harrison said he’d often experience headaches until Tuesday night after a game, taking Advil for the pain and drinking Sprite to reduce the nausea. “You can ask my wife,” he said. “She saw what I went through. I never let anyone else know.”
He said that, when his son wants to see highlights of Harrison’s playing career, “I get scared even watching myself. I just want those guys to be protected.”
Harrison now believes that the focus on dealing with players who have had concussions should include increased efforts to prevent them from getting concussions in the first place. And he agrees with the league’s decision to suspend players for flagrant helmet-to-helmet hits on a one-strike basis, reiterating his position that players gain notoriety (and thus large contracts) by being known either as a playmaker or as a tough guy.
“No one gets known for being a solid form tackler,” he said.
Harrison believes that suspensions — and the threat of suspensions — will get the message across. “Fines are a cost of doing business,” Harrison said, “but when a guy loses a game check and isn’t available for his team, that hurts.”
He explained that it’s a simple matter of forcing the players adjust to the new emphasis. “We adjust to everything,” Harrison said. “Coaches, weather, planes, food. That’s what football is about. It’s about making adjustments. Football players adjust.”
Harrison believes that the “smart coaches” immediately will begin to communicate the message to their players, telling them that the team can’t afford to have them be suspended and repeatedly showing them video of proper and improper hitting techniques.
Harrison has yet to get any flak from current or former NFL players, but he won’t be troubled if he does. “I’ll tell them, ‘Don’t worry about what I say,’” he said. “I’m trying to protect players. I don’t give a damn who likes it or not.”
But not everyone is leaving him alone about it. At the gym this week, a football fan approached and suggested that Harrison was going too far with his position on the issue.
“I told him, ‘If your son was DeSean Jackson, would you be saying that?’”