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Monday, July 18, 2011

NFL star James Harrison and a lesson about being a teammate

James Harrison of the National Football League Pittsburgh Steelers is one of the top defensive players in his profession. Though not drafted out of college, he has gone on to a stellar career on one of the league’s top teams.  He is a rugged, talented player.

In a recent interview with Men’s Journal Magazine, Harrison reveals his views on the commissioner of the league, some former players-turned broadcasters and, maybe most importantly, his own teammates.

Now, professional athletes, like the rest of us, have every right to express their opinions on all kinds of subjects. The thing that caught my attention, though, as someone involved in youth sports for many years, were his specific comments about two teammates, running back Rashard Mendenhall and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He apparently blamed them in part for the Steelers losing a Super Bowl a few years back.

The Associated Press picked up excerpts from the original story, including the following comments:

Harrison also criticizes other NFL executives, Patriots-turned-commentators Rodney Harrison and Tedy Bruschi (“clowns’’), Houston’s Brian Cushing (“juiced out of his mind’’) - and even teammates Rashard Mendenhall and Ben Roethlisberger for their performances in the Super Bowl loss.

Harrison calls the running back a “fumble machine’’ for his fourth-quarter turnover.

Mendenhall said on Twitter yesterday he didn’t have a problem with what Harrison said “because I know him.’’ But he also included a link to his stats from last season, which show he didn’t have a pattern of fumbling.

Of the quarterback’s two interceptions, Harrison says: “Hey, at least throw a pick on their side of the field instead of asking the D to bail you out again. Or hand the ball off and stop trying to act like Peyton Manning. You ain’t that and you know it, man; you just get paid like he does.’’

Again, everyone is entitled to their views. Star athletes tend to have a broader platform than the rest of us, and some use it well. Others not so well.

I don’t have any noteworthy views on the rest of the article (again, like everyone, athletes can absolutely express their views freely on all kinds of subjects) but when it comes to talking about teammates, when a pro athlete criticizes in the way Harrison evidently did, it is a concern.

In youth sports we try to encourage not only the importance of being part of a team, but what it means to actually be a good teammate. Going after your fellow players in print is not a good thing and sets an unfortunate example.  Too many youngsters (and people in general) are already well prepared to "blame someone else" when their team struggles.

Harrison has quickly apologized for some of his comments, which is good to see. Hopefully his message, if given the chance when speaking with impressionable youngsters, will be that blaming others for defeat is not appropriate. Good teammates simply don’t do that—at any age, at any level of play.