James Harrison has been suspended for one game by the NFL for a vicious hit on Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy during the SteelersÂ–Browns game last Thursday. The illegal hit handed McCoy a concussion which will sideline him indefinitely.
The Harrison suspension, which the league announced Tuesday, sets a totally new precedent for discipline in the NFL, marking the first time a player has been suspended for an illegal hit during gameplay. Suspensions are typically reserved for egregious off-field behavior, or dangerous or dirty moves by players in-between plays.
The hit in particular, Harrison’s fifth punishable offense against a quarterback in three seasons, demonstrates both why helmet-to-helmet hits are in the process of being eliminated from games and why Harrison is justifiably well-known as one of the league’s dirtiest players.
Watch the video of the hit on NFL.com and you’ll see exactly why Harrison has been punished so stiffly by the league. As seen in the replays, he has plenty of time (in gameplay terms) to line up McCoy for a hit, which really wasn’t necessary to begin with as McCoy had clearly gotten rid of the ball by the time he delivered the hit.
Instead of taking his time to either lower a shoulder into McCoyÂ—or simply wrap him up for a tackle to the groundÂ—Harrison lowers his helmet at the last moment and drives it straight into McCoy’s chin, violently snapping the QB’s head back and causing the concussion suffered on the play.
It’s hits like the one by James Harrison that continue to be a major problem for defenses in the league, and clearly fines aren’t enough. Many hard-hitting, oft-fined defensive players, like the Atlanta Falcons’ Dunta Robinson, are happy to accept fines for the sake of delivering a punishing hitÂ—and, in his mind, a disturbing message to his opponents.
Harrison is one of these players with this borderline psychotic mindsetÂ—and, apparently, continues to feel that way even after being suspended. His immediate reaction to his punishment? “LOL!” on Twitter. That was before his clearly PR-soaked follow-up tweet thanking his fans before focusing on his next game. Nobody’s fooled there, JamesÂ—except maybe loyal Steelers fans.
This isn’t how the game needs to be played. Big hits do not need to be delivered all the time when textbook tackling can do the trick. And if a hit is necessary or simply the most effective way a particular player needs to play, then learn to hit the clean way, with the shoulder and arms.
There’s a reason guys like the Ravens’ Ray Lewis is known all around the league as a physical, hard-hitting player, but not as a dirty player: because he does it the right way. The professional way.
James Harrison is a fine player, one of the top talents on a strong, deep Steelers defense. But he is undoubtedly a dirty player, and he’s the first one for which the NFL has made a serious example of how not to hit your opponents.
(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)