James Harrison explains his concerns about safety rules


As the NFL continues to implement the ultimate safety procedures via a lockout that ensures players won’t be in harm’s way because they aren’t allowed on the field, Steelers linebacker James Harrison has elaborated on his concerns regarding the league’s ongoing tweaking of rules aimed at protecting players.

Harrison and other players are concerned that the rules aren’t clear.  Linebackers Scott Fujita and linebacker London Fletcher separately told PFT Live last week that there’s a disconnect between the rules and the manner in which the game is played in real time.

“I understand the intent behind making the rules, but in their attempt to make the game safer, they are actually clouding what is allowable,” Harrison recently said on his personal blog.  “Even the referees are confused.  A close look will show you that the referees were calling things that were not even supposed to be called, and NOT calling things that were actually illegal.”

In an appearance on ESPN’s NFL Live, Harrison explained that his primary concern relates to rules regarding the use of the helmet, and the inconsistent throwing of flags and imposition of fines when the rules regarding blows to or with the helmet are (or aren’t) broken.  Harrison specifically complained about incidental helmet contact, explaining that he never has been fined for deliberately launching with his helmet.

Harrison agrees with the need to protect the players, but he says the players understand that there are certain risks inherent to playing football.  “[W]hen it comes down to it, it’s an assumption of risk that you take when you play the game,” Harrison told NFL Live.  “If it’s not worth it to you, then you get out of it.”

Harrison is right.  When elite football players move at full speed, there will be various forms of incidental contact.  The fact that the players believe they face arbitrary fines for the random collisions by and between helmets suggests that, as currently constituted, the rules are indeed too random.

One common gripe arises from the apparent failure of the folks who make the rules to factor the realities of playing football into the official collection of football’s thou shalt nots.  Perhaps if more time were spent working directly with the players in the hopes of properly shaping the changes to reflect the delicate balance between blowing up a receiver and blowing an opportunity to stop the opponent from scoring points, the NFL would be passing new rules that the defensive players would regard as somewhat more tolerable.

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55 responses to “James Harrison explains his concerns about safety rules

  1. Its a really simple solution, put it in the contracts.
    have sign a waiver of liability protecting the shield so to speak.

  2. Sadly, there are “gray” areas in life that require judgement calls. When we are tweenis, everything seems black and white. When we become adults, we realize that nearly everything is shades of gray, entirely dependent upon the current situation.
    That is the situation in regard to rules in a game. Some things are obviously wrong,ie grabbing a facemask and cartwheeling the guy to the ground. Others are dependent upon the exact situation, helmet to helmet, for example. Was there apparent malice and intent? Was it incidental, even though the guy was maimed for life? These type of decisions are judgement calls, subject later to nauseating continous analysis in super slow motion.
    I compare the rule book to the US tax code; no one can possibly understand the entire thing, and it is subject to interpretation by individuals one of whom will make the final decision based upon their judgement.
    I sympathize with both the players and the league on this one.

  3. I cant wait for the owners to prevail and give Roger even more disciplinary powers in the new CBA. It will be a pleasure to watch Mr. Goodell start suspending these greedy players that can’t follow the rules and costing them some serious cash and playing time.

    Protecting players is fine, but cheap, dirty play like Harrison does is not

  4. The problem is that the league is being run by a lawyer. The lawyers brain is programed to think about liability and liability avoidance. So the way the lawyer does that is to display actions (rules changes and fines) to mitigate the likelihood of injury. That’s all fine and good, except that it goes directly in the face of the very nature of the game. Harrison is exactly right. There is an assumption of risk that every player takes. Violence and injury are inherent to the game and you can not mitigate the risk out with lawyers making rules to deflect liability without ruining the essence of football. Tackling is violent and it will always be violent. The lawyers will never be able to change that.

  5. If he’s confused as to what illegal use of the helmet is, he should just watch his own game tape.

  6. since the commissioner wants to make the game offensive and handicapping the defense seems to be his preference then make it illegal for running backs to lead with their helmets when diving from the 1 yd line. better yet mr commissioner if you are paying attention instead of trying to blame players,coaches, and teams for doing what they were taught to do since pop warner why dont you have research done to find equipment that offers more protection for the players. in every poll Ive ever read the fans DONOTWANT tyo see less defense actually it is exactly what has given this great game its popularity. is it only me or does it seem like the only people who want to change the gameare those who A have never played it at any substanial level and those who write about it yet those same people want to be the one’s who deem certain elements of the game unsafe. my suggestion to those is this. go find another career.

  7. Harrison is spot-on with every comment.

    Harrison is thoughtfully assessing the practical realities of the absurd rule changes. Though they may be (or may not be) well-intentioned, Harrison sheds a vastly more realistic perspective on the topic.

    Ever hear Mark Schlereth address the subject, he is nails too. Guys like Harrison and Schlereth get it.

  8. If you are talking mud and sweat football, fine. I agree. But if you are looking at the NFLs’ shortage of QBs, the fact that Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are the faces, I don’t think they care what he says. You protect your product. Who are the backup QBs in Indy and NE? How many tickets and jerseys did they sell last year?

  9. A clear, concise, reasonable explanation of his position and his concerns moving forward.

    I’m dying to know who wrote that for him.

  10. his real concern: i will get fined, suspended, kicked out. cause i dont play within any rules.

  11. So we can bring back Chop Blocks cause 1 or 2 players with no common sense or IQs don’t understand the very easy to understand rule?
    I don’t recall Reggie White/KevinGreene/LT going around Head Banging with Jerry Rice or Emmit Smith, then again that’s probably cause they actually knew how to freaking TACKLE!

  12. Don’t they teach you this in Pee-Wee?

    Look up when you tackle.

    Then you wouldn’t have an issue of launching with the helmet or hit to the head. It’s for your own safety as well.

    It’s a simple issue of learning HOW TO TACKLE.

  13. It seems at times plays are flagged that are unavoidable. No one can stop on a dime. It’s Football, you will get hit hard. What should be penalized and fined are the hits that are clearly unnecessary. When a ball is clearly overthrown by 5 feet and a DB nails the WR anyway. There’s no need for that.

  14. If they would go start negotiating a new CBA they could ask for player input on the rules committee perhaps.

  15. Has anyone considered what the new rules about hitting “defenseless players” means in the end zone? If I understand the new rules, then defensive players aren’t allows to touch receivers until they have both feet on the ground. In the end zone, that’s a touchdown. To stop a touchdown, defensive players now have to deflect the ball. They are no longer allowed to hit the receiver and jar the ball loose.

    This applies outside the end zone, too, but at least that won’t be an immediate touchdown.

  16. I agree with the inconsistent calls of the refs, to flagging colombo for excessive celebration when he clearly lost his footing and fell to the ground, and next week seeing AP goin to the ground in celebration and nothin being called to not calling the most incredibly illegal and awesome sack I have ever seen by steelers on vince youngs face. I just think don’t add new rules if the ones in place can barely be called right

  17. Is it a surprise that Harrison is constantly complaining about rules that will basically take away his “method” of tackling? He knows that his reputation as a linebacker will go right down the tubes when he has to switch his playing style from “kill” back to “stun”, like everyone else. Waaahhhh…

  18. All you people complaining about Goodell know HE doesn’t make the rules, right?

    Thanks to all our vets and active servicemen and women who stand in harm’s way to protect this amazing country. And special thanks to all the families of the heroes who never came home.

  19. They will never succeed in legislating injuries out of the game ..Never! …They will only ruin the game by trying. …Goodell’s ultimate dream is to merge with the Lingerie League.

  20. I think many of you whom are commenting know nothing about James Harrison. You do not know that he is a very articulate intelligent man who does not need anyone to write a statement for him. I also think you are fans of teams who have not made it to the Superbowl in a while, or lost to the Steelers. James is NOT against player safety at all. Just a level playing field of rule enforcement. Why is it that he is a hard hitting player, who gets his job right, so that makes him dirty? I don’t think so. This is football, not ballet. It is a full contact sport. If you do not understand the risks involved you should not step out onto the field. Why is this a new issue? How long has this game been played? What about all the hard hitting players that are legends in years past? You need to quit hating the player and hate the game. I don’t want to see anyone get hurt out there either, but let the game be played like it always has been. You shouldn’t have to second guess every move you make on the field.

  21. @iownyoutoo @commandercornpone Amazing that the SAME intensity and SAME type of hits that earned James Harrison the Defensive Player of the Year is now dirty????

    It is amazing how wishy-washy NFL fans think like that. It is VERY easy for you to expect a football player who has played a certain style for 25+ years to change their whole style of play from one week (Season) to the next while YOU sit on the couch.

    @scott8nj: Spot on!! You have a LB or DB weighing 250+ pounds running full speed at a WR or RB who suddenly lowers his head down at the last split second, in essence putting his own head in the strike zone, its now the defensive player’s fault. Blah!

  22. Seems pretty simple to me. Don’t spear the guy with the helmet. In other words, look up. But these cheap shot guys want to get on jacked up with a helmet hit then cry about how it’s all about being a tough guy.

    On other side of things, I have seen where the defender goes to make a tackle, and the ball carrier makes a strange move that makes the defender’s hit illegal because it happens so fast it’s unavoidable. Now that shouldn’t be called.

  23. I hate the Steelers but i agree with James Harrison 150%… the bottom line is that they are fining players for playing football… but it’s so difficult to decipher between an intended illegal hit and an incidental one unless it is blatantly obvious which almost all of them are not… either upgrade the equipment or end the sport… cuz if they don’t change their course of action then they will ruin football for good… i have already seen the impact on defensive players across the league who were hesitant to give a hit because of the fines and let the go ahead TD in the endzone because they had to think twice about it… NOT FAIR TO THE DEFENSE give it up… these life effecting injuries are almost unavoidable… the only thing you can do is upgrade the equipment to lower the number of injuries… if you can’t take the heat get out of the kitchen and pick a different profession… move over cuz i’ll risk my health to put that kind of money away for the long term for my family so they are well off…

  24. @realitypolice …

    I’ve been posting for a long time now that James is a bright guy with a great deadpan sense of humor and an interesting take on NFL issues. It’s too bad that in your reality it’s impossible to imagine that a hard-hitting defensive player can possess those qualities.

  25. If there is a 2011 season, expect a lot of early high scoring games. The lockout combined with rules changes = defensive players who are tentative/unsure if their instincts are legal.

  26. Harrison is right and I am starting to believe that Goodell and company are trying to make NFL stand for National FigureSkating League with all these rule changes. What a joke !

  27. “What lawyer would that be who is running the NFL? The commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell? Well, for about the 1000th time, he isn’t a lawyer.”

    Read your wiki a little more carefully. Goodell won a close commissioner vote in 2006 on the fifth ballot over Gregg Levy. Levy is a very experienced litigator, and one of the NFL’s counsel. It’s not a stretch to say he is a driving force behind the league, and perhaps with more influence on the owners than Goodell.

  28. As much as Harrison likes to whine and moan about the rules changes, just remember this one little tidbit, another guy, plays LB, hits people just as hard and he’s never been fined by the NFL. Ray Lewis.

  29. James Harrison gets away with more crap that anybody I’ve ever seen. That suplex thing he likes to do where he picks the ball carrier up in the air and slams him down on his head is not only dangerous, it’s indicative of terrible technique AND HE IS RARELY FLAGGED FOR IT.

  30. Deb says: May 30, 2011 3:41 PM

    “I’ve been posting for a long time now that James is a bright guy with a great deadpan sense of humor and an interesting take on NFL issues. It’s too bad that in your reality it’s impossible to imagine that a hard-hitting defensive player can possess those qualities.”

    Yeah…not to mention he’s an impeccable dresser, raises his pinky at tea, and knows the difference between a salad and a dessert fork…all qualities that we demand in our defensive back-fielders.

    No wonder the NFL is sissified. Go away.

  31. Lol @ armchair athletes.. Having the nerve to criticize a PRO athlete at his job.. Saying Harrison didn’t show up in the superbowl? Let’s see what would have happened if we put you in? That’s like criticizing a nuclear physicist for a poor calculation which lead to a rocket misfiring… Could you do any better from your armchair?
    And just because he is BLACK you wonder who wrote it for him? Would you question the authenticity if it were Clay Matthews?
    People are funny…

  32. The guy’s a defensive MVP not some 3rd year clown popping off.

    All he’s saying is there is a differnce between intent to injure and incidental contact. The new rules aren’t asking the officials to be mind readers, just use common sense.

    Many of Harrison’s fines came on plays where no flag was thrown or where the offensive player lowered his head to absorb the hit causing the contact.

  33. @ sagatti……A bit racist are you?

    the solution, quit fining and suspending for leading with your helmet. Instead, deprive them of their helmet for a game. That would quickly end the habit…..lol

  34. melonnhead says:May 30, 2011 5:07 PM

    James Harrison gets away with more crap that anybody I’ve ever seen. That suplex thing he likes to do where he picks the ball carrier up in the air and slams him down on his head is not only dangerous, it’s indicative of terrible technique AND HE IS RARELY FLAGGED FOR IT.

    ~Melon Head,… If you watch football, or James Harrison as closely as you say you do… you would realize the man is held almost every other play. Watch football more Melon, you will understand what James is trying to say with his comments.

  35. the only reason roger goodell is doing this is so he can get a 18 game schedule. he will turn the national football leaugue into a two hand touch league it has already been looked into and networks will give owner 1.2 billion more dollars to have two more regular season game. goodell and the owners could care less if players get hurt but they sure as hell want another two game and will stop at nothing to get there , even though the fans do not want it. its time to boycott the nfl until they wake up and leave the damn game alone

  36. Ricardo Grande, usually when men have the kind of women problems you’ve indicated, they’re smart enough not to advertise them.

    I’m a lover of old-school, hard-hitting football, but today’s NFL also requires linebackers to be smart, which Harrison happens to be. Since you’re clearly missing several brain cells, I’m not surprised you’d take a comment about his intellect and start blathering like a fool about pinky fingers and sissies. I’m not going away. And you might want to see a shrink about your sissy issues. 🙄

  37. I love Deb’s posts.. She is a thinker.. Hard for most of you inbreads. And the fact that she knows football pisses you off even more. If she looked like say Salma Heyak she would be the PERFECT girlfriend or wife. While you’re wifes are asking you stupid questions and wanting to “TALK” about your relationship, I get the sense at least Deb would know to WAIT till after the game to do so… Lol

  38. Once again, James Harrison is correct as opposed to most of the ladies posting here, Deb excluded. For all the great thinkers here, playing defense is a reactive effort. That means the defense has to recognize the play and neutralize it. This requires split second responses from the defensive players. Now that the defensive player has correctly diagnosed his response, he is then supposed to be thinking about how he should hit the player? Completely unrealistic. Selecting hits creates hesitation. Hesitation destroys defenses.

    The only place a gentle defense makes sense is in the offices of the NFL headquarters in New York. There dozens of sycophantic vice presidents anxiously wait for the Big Hit to occur allowing them to demonstrate to the public how concerned they are with the safety and health of players. Forget about the ex-players with debilitating injuries just like the NFL did.

    The NFL only cares when there is money involved. Just like the Catholic Church which didn’t address child abuse until they could be sued. To live but 5 minutes in your world.

  39. These rule changes means I’ll gradually start watching more college football and less NFL.

    The rule changes are ludicrous. What would Ronnie Lott, Dick Butkus, Jack Lambert, Dick Lane, and Jack Tatum think?

  40. ~Melon Head,… If you watch football, or James Harrison as closely as you say you do… you would realize the man is held almost every other play.


    If you watch football as much as you say that I should, you would realize that most pass rushers are held on every other play, particularly the elite ones.

  41. The rule changes are ludicrous. What would Ronnie Lott, Dick Butkus, Jack Lambert, Dick Lane, and Jack Tatum think?


    They’d probably wonder what time Wapner comes on because they’ve sustained so much brain damage.

  42. Lol @ armchair athletes.. Having the nerve to criticize a PRO athlete at his job..


    Oh no, wouldn’t want to question ANYthing that ANY professional does at his job!

  43. As much as Harrison likes to whine and moan about the rules changes, just remember this one little tidbit, another guy, plays LB, hits people just as hard and he’s never been fined by the NFL. Ray Lewis.


    Ummm Ray Lewis has indeed been fined by the NFL.

    $250K for conduct detrimental to the NFL in connection with that stabby incident he was involved in
    $25K for a helmet-to-helmet on Ochocinco in ’09 and kicking a Bengals player later in the same game
    $5K for a hit on Austin Collie last year
    $7500 for a hit on McNair in 2001

    There may be more but I’ve spent enough time looking that crap up.

  44. Finally, very well said by James. I don’t care how “textbook” you try to make a tackle. When you have 2 elite athletes running full bore at each other, in that split second bodies are going to be twisting, turning, ducking and moving in various ways such that there is a high chance for helmets to hit or heads to be hit. I do think most folks can tell if a hit is made in a clearly intentional way. There is too much confusion on this issue generated by the league’s seemingly vague rules. Until last year or so, football never had this problem.

    Quit fining people. Suspend people for flagrant violations that hurt people, and let the players play the rest of the time. It is a man’s game, and I really don’t think the vast majority intend to intentionally hit someone illegally to hurt them.

  45. @sagatti …

    Thank you … lol I’m too fair-skinned to look like the beautiful Ms. Hayek, but I’m definitely a girly-girl. And I was once invited to leave a family gathering after finally losing it and telling a relative’s loudmouth heifer friend to “Hush!” because she was bellowing in my ear so I couldn’t hear the game. 😳

    Noooo, I would not be having a relationship chat, running a vacuum, or scheduling a baby shower during football. What is wrong with these women?!? 🙂

  46. @ melonhead… Not unless you can do it better. He is a professional for a reason. Those of us that have actually PLAYED past Jr. High or HS would have a better reason to criticize… Most likely you haven’t. So while I believe you have a right to root and offer oppinions (how ever silly they may be) save the coaching for the PROFESSIONALS. Armchair something you know like say…. Ditch digging or accounting. Let James do his job. Would you want him armchairing your profession?
    You would tell him to shut up and do his job..

  47. @ Deb.. Don’t worry none of us are perfect. I’m sure my wife would say if I looked more like Denzel Washington I’d be the perfect husband:)

  48. @sagatti …

    Ooooh … I like Denzel, too. But I do okay with my peaches & cream complexion. As long as the women are the only ones complaining, I can live with that 😉

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