Tuesday, August 16, 2016

NFL, Pittsburgh Steelers' James Harrison begin nine-day standoff


Jeremy FowlerESPN Staff Writerhttp://www.espn.com/blog/pittsburgh-steelers/August 16, 2016

Pittsburgh Steelers James Harrison
Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison, under NFL investigation for alleged PED use, takes a break during a practice at the NFL football team's training camp in Latrobe, Pa., Friday, July 29, 2016.(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)(Gene J. Puskar)
LATROBE, Pa. -- Early in the summer, I was told that Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison knew that the NFL's request for interviews over the Al-Jazeera report was coming and planned to cooperate because he had nothing to hide.
He still feels that way, but the dynamic has shifted.
The NFLPA and NFL turned the case into their latest public spat. The players shouted lack of evidence over links to performance-enhancing drugs. The league claims it's required to follow up on leads for the greater good. And Harrison invited Roger Goodell to his home as a stipulation for doing an interview.
And now the tipping point: The league informing the NFLPA that Goodell is prepared to unilaterally discipline uncooperative players for conduct detrimental to the league. Harrison and others, including Green Bay Packers linebackers Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers, have until Aug. 25 to schedule an interview. Nowhere does the letter from league vice president Adolpho Birch specify how long suspensions would be, or whether they'd be lifted at all.
Throughout all this, Harrison hasn't said he absolutely won't talk to the NFL. He's denounced the report, which he should after Al-Jazeera's lead source, Charlie Sly, recanted his claims. Otherwise, Harrison has stayed in the background for the most part. He's declined discussing the topic at training camp.
Now he has nine days to decide how important precedent is to him. That's the bigger fight for both sides at the highest levels. Harrison followed suit because he fervently supports player rights.
The players have every reason to be skeptical of the league after DeflateGate.
But, at age 38 and one more chance at a Super Bowl, maybe Harrison will make that appointment.
That's not caving. That's wanting to play. Harrison has been more involved in this year's training camp than he was a year ago. He's coming off a productive season in which Pro Football Focus rated him one of the 10 most efficient 3-4 outside linebackers. He's talking every practice rep with a purpose. This is not a guy looking to log a 14th NFL season quietly.
Maybe the NFLPA has a counter move that Harrison can get behind. But, as the NFL appears done with the public volleying and just made a significant move, Harrison must decide whether fighting this cause is worth the energy in the twilight of his career.
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