The Sports Daily > Blitzburgh Blog
Is James Harrison a dirty player?: 8 bloggers give their opinion


There has been so much talk this week about tackling in the NFL, James Harrison, helmets, and much, much more. Certainly, the NFL is undergoing some major changes on the defensive side of the ball. But after James Harrison’s $75,000 fine from the NFL and rumors of his retirement, we decided to drop a big time post just about Harrison and the question that everybody has been asking this week: Is James Harrison a dirty player? Since all of us Steeler fans are at least a little bit biased, we brought in a few outsiders to voice their opinions as well. Jump it to check out videos of Harrison’s hits and read a bunch of expert bloggers giving their unbridled opinion on whether or not Harrison is dirty.

For reference, here’s a playlist of a few of the plays that people have deemed to be dirty or whatever:



Bloggers: Is James Harrison a dirty player?

Brett from Midway Illustrated says: From the sound of it James Harrison has earned a reputation for being a dirty player.  Since I haven’t seen Harrison play enough I can’t say one way or another whether he’s a dirty player or not. All I can do is simply say this, the second you mentioned this article I snapped back to the Bears vs. Steelers game from 2009 and a recollection from one of my play by play game reviews.  I recalled writing something about a dirty play, but I couldn’t recall it perfectly so I had to look up the play that I wrote about and then I looked it up on NFL GameRewind from last season.  The play in question is a play in which Harrison takes a dirty shot late at Jay Cutler’s knees in the end-zone.   Harrison dives at Cutler’s legs about two seconds after the ball has been released and simply dives at his knees for the sake of diving at his knees. This play by definition is a dirty play in every sense of the word, a pass rusher who is late arriving at the other team’s star quarterback and literally DIVES at the QB’s knees.  The play draws a 15-yard personal foul  roughing the quarterback penalty on Harrison and is a play that could have clearly ended Cutler’s season. Now if I simply go based on that type of dirty play and the sound of the NFL fan echo chamber that Harrison is a dirty player I could say YES he’s a dirty player. I think the fact that I recalled one single play from Harrison and that’s the play burned into my memory may say a lot about Harrison’s style of play. Players who earn a reputation for being a dirty player, it’s usually justified…only on rare occasions are player unjustly labeled.


james harrison hitBrian says: Harrison is a dirty player in the same way that you are multiple-offense criminal. He’s made a dirty hit or two here and there, and you downloaded that John Mayer album in high school because that girl you liked really wanted it. The problem here is that no one has defined “dirty” on the football field. Do you define it as intent to injure? Then everyone is probably clean. I don’t believe players go out trying to end other players’ careers. Well, besides Terrell Suggs. Do you define it as playing at a level that brings damage to other players? All right, I can accept that. James Harrison most definitely plays hard enough to harm other players. Many of us can recall most of his “dirty” plays. For example, against the Titans a year or two ago, Harrison went low on a tackle against Bo Scaife (if I’m not mistaken). He hit him straight on from the front in the legs, which looks like a shattered kneecap waiting to happen. Scaife obviously thought it was a dirty hit, and when questioned about it, Harrison replied that if he hits too high, he gets fined. So he hit low. Is that dirty? I don’t think so. The NFL made it clear that you aren’t allowed to hit players above the chest, so Silverback complied and went low. That’s just about the definition of following the rules. But then we have the flip side of this: the times he loses control of himself and actually plays bad football. Ask an Arizona fan (if they haven’t all killed themselves by now) what they thought of #92 in the Superbowl. I bet their answer involves Harrison being ejected, suspended, and no less that two Steeler touchdowns revoked and the Lombardi trophy re-awarded to the Cardinals. So if a few these plays over a tough-guy linebacker’s career make him dirty, so be it. Eventually guys like him will be phased out of the NFL along with big hits, end zone dances, and anything that gives the game any character. To quote Mel Blount, “Football is a physical game. Well, it used to be anyway.” The big hits around the league on Sunday were awesome to watch. And on Monday afternoon, they were now legislated out of football. Imagine what the league would do to guys like Jack Lambert, Deacon Jones, or Jack Tatum if they played today. James Harrison comes from the same mold. He plays an old style of defense in a new league that loves offense. If that makes him dirty, so be it. I’d rather call him a throwback player from a better era. If you weren’t excited to see those players hit the turf, you should just go turn on baseball right now. I’d bet you any money Roger Goodell is.


The Pensblog says: Is James Harrison a dirty football player?  Probably.  In our eyes, the dirtiest thing he has done was in Super Bowl XLIII when he was punching that Cardinals player when he was down on the ground. In the NFL, all it takes is one or two instances like this to be considered a dirty player. But as far as Harrison hitting players coming across the middle or sacking the quarterback, Harrison definitely is not dirty.  It’s just that the NFL has decided to start labeling certain hits as dangerous.  What’s scary for the NFL now is that defensive players are the ones that will start getting hurt, since they will have moments of hesitation when they go to tackle someone.   We don’t blame Harrison for contemplating retirement.  The rules on illegal hits are too vague for any defensive player to feel comfortable when he goes for a hit.


Ian from from The Steelers n’at says: James Harrison. Where to begin? Well, let’s take a brief look at how the man got his start in the league. Harrison was the youngest of 14 kids and attended a high school where he was one of the first African-American players to ever put on a football helmet. During his time in high school, he was suspended twice (challenging a coach to a fight and making an obscene gesture towards fans — according to Wikipedia the second incident happened after fans uttered racial slurs towards him). I think the evidence is pretty clear that Harrison faced a lot of adversity early in life, and no doubt it shaped his personality. Harrison didn’t go to a major college, and went undrafted in the NFL draft, yet another chip on his shoulder. The way he plays the game, you can definitely tell he plays with an edge that not many players have. He plays every down like he is out there to prove wrong everyone that ever thought he couldn’t do something. When Harrison first came into the league, he made a name for himself playing Special Teams. To play Special Teams in this league, you have to be willing to throw your body out there against people running full speed towards you in the other direction. Harrison proved to be an ace on Special Teams and laid some great hits, including one on Ed Reed a few years ago. I have one final note to make. Let’s look at the tale of the tape when it comes to Harrison vs some of the other elite 3-4 OLBs in the league.

Clay Matthews: 6’3″ 255 lbs
DeMarcus Ware: 6’4″ 264 lbs
Terrell Suggs: 6’3″ 260 lbs
James Harrison: 6’0″ 242 lbs

Considering that Harrison is 3 inches shorter than all of these guys, he tends to play with a lower pad level. As we know, players are taught to play with their pad levels as low as possible to get the maximum leverage on their hits and against opposing blockers. Since Harrison is shorter than the other 3-4 OLBs in the league, he can be more explosive. Have you ever looked at the guy’s legs? His thighs are massive. The power and explosiveness he can generate out of his lower body generates more force than someone who is taller and not built like a tank. Harrison can generate this insane amount of force in a short amount of space (he has to be able to use it when he bullrushes offensive tackles). This clip of him hitting Brett Favre last year shows just how explosive Harrison is, even having essentially no running start. Defenders are taught to hit in the middle of the chest and drive upward, and Harrison has shown repeatedly that is what he aims to do (obviously given that there is some degree of randomness in the game and the offensive player isn’t always going to have their chest exposed for a defender to hit). In conclusion, we do not think that James Harrison is a dirty player. Does he play with a chip on his shoulder? Absolutely. Does he have insane physical gifts that enable him to generate ridiculous amounts of force? Of course, that’s just pure physics. Does he intentionally go out there on the field and try to injure people? Absolutely not. He doesn’t go after people’s legs or knees. He doesn’t aim for the head or launch himself into people like some safeties around the league do. He plays the game with a ferociousness and tenacity that we have come to expect out of players in Pittsburgh.

George says: Simply put, dirtiness is in the eye of the beholder. If you’re a player, where a knee injury is career-threatening but one concussion isn’t, a head shot isn’t necessarily “dirty”. To the eye of you or me, who needs their brains a lot more in order to do their job, a head injury is devastating, and anyone who hits someone in the head is dirty. In the end, for players and coaches, it’s mostly about intent, and I don’t think James Harrison intends to inflict serious injury. When he says “I want to hurt people, not injure them,” it kind of makes sense and provides a clue to his intent. He wants that receiver to feel the impact, but not actually suffer a long-term injury. Unfortunately, when viewers like me watch a devastating hit, the first thought is, “Wow, that’s an awesome hit!” But then when the player doesn’t get up for a while, I think “Whoa, that’s not cool.” So, I think Harrison’s intense, but intense can sometimes appear dirty. I’m just glad he’s playing football and I’m not.


Joe from 18to88 says: I was disgusted by James Harrison’s reaction to having concussed two opposing players. Knocking an opposing player out of the game as a goal screams dirty play to me, but Harrison just expressed the prevailing attitude in the league. Harrison didn’t have the most visually disturbing hit, nor the most blatantly illegal on Sunday (those belonged to Dunta Robinson and Brandon Meriweather, respectively). Even with the generous interpretation of his statement, that the goal is pain and intimidation and taking a player off the field just an acceptable side effect, it shows a disregard for player safety that the NFL can’t responsibly allow. James Harrison isn’t a particularly dirty player, but he’s a prime example of the unsportsmanlike and very dangerous attitude that prevails among the league’s defenders.


james harrison steelersBam says: I think James Harrison is a dirty player, but it doesn’t really change the way I look at him. I don’t really have a problem with any of the recent hits against Cleveland, but he’s done enough things over his career that are a bit over the line and there’s definitely a pattern there. He is the modern day Jack Lambert. I think Harrison is dirty because he is pissed off at the rest of the world. People have hated on James since he was just a kid and now that he’s on top of the football world, he is letting everybody know who is boss. I don’t think that his background totally excuses some of his recklessness on the football field, but it makes it understandable. Jim Wexell wrote a lot about Harrison’s childhood and high school years in Steeler Nation and it was extremely moving. James was the youngest of 14 kids in his family. He was one of the only black kids playing football in the area and put up with racial slurs and threats every time he took the field. No college offered him a scholarship. No NFL team drafted him. The Steelers cut him three times and the Ravens once. He was one cut away from quitting football and returning to Akron to drive a bus for a living. He endured a season in NFL Europe and used his equipment bag from that team even while he was a Pro Bowl player with Pittsburgh so he wouldn’t forget what he went through. I’m not all that into psychoanalysis or anything, but Harrison really piques my interest. I think he has spent his whole life being told that he was a troublemaker who would never amount to anything and that is why he plays such a ferocious style on the football field. I’ll always admire him a lot more for the path he took to NFL stardom than I’ll dislike him for his style of play. It’s a shame that most people won’t look past the hits and learn to appreciate the person.


Matt says: Let me start by saying this…James Harrison is not a dirty player. I know that this past weekend he had two hard hits on a couple of Brownies, but from what I saw (after numerous Tivo replays) were just two hard hitting football plays. James Harrison isn’t a dirty player; he is just a beast and one of the best players in the NFL. The NFL fined Harrison $75,000 for one of those hits, which I think is ridiculous….especially since neither was flagged by an official during the game. Bill Parise, Harrison’s agent, actually told the press that after the fine Harrison is now confused about the proper way to play football. I agree with Harrison on this one. The NFL already tells the players who they can hit, which is basically only the running back (because every other position seems “defenseless”), and how they should hit them. Now the NFL wants to tell players how hard they can hit too. It’s a common sense thing that I have heard from a lot of people, including Stuart Scott on ESPN. Nobody is forcing these guys to play in the NFL. In the NFL, players (including quarterbacks in my opinion) should be able to get hit by the other team. If you don’t want to get hit, don’t play. I am all for player safety, but the NFL is continuing to take the hitting out of football, and at some point it has to stop. All I know is this, if we continue at this pace, we will soon be watching the NFFL (National Flag Football League) and nobody wants to watch that.