Friday, December 29, 2017

Strictly Business

People in Steeler Country are sharply divided about James Harrison, one of the Steelers finest linebackers getting released by the club and signing with the arch-rival New England Patriots.  Some look upon this move as a personal affront .  That he has betrayed and sold out Steeler Nation and has joined the enemy.  Some would almost equate Harrison's signing as akin to treason or aiding and abetting the enemy. I'm pretty sure that a few of Harrison's #92 jersey will end up in a few roaring fireplaces during this current cold snap. Of course, fans are blaming everyone within arm's length about this debacle. The Rooneys, Coach Tomlin, Trump, Obama, no one has escaped blame. Many people think that Harrison was signed by the Pats so Belichek can pick his brain to find out the Steelers defensive plays and strategies.  Thing is, Belichek has plenty of game film in the Pats' many wins over the Steelers to pore over.  I doubt that there isn't much more Harrison can tell him about the Steelers defense than he already knows.

The Steelers have played Harrison sparingly this season. He's only seen 40 snaps thru 15 games.  And who knows how much more he'll see with the Patriots. Harrison is 39 years old, his best years are behind him. He's a beast in the weight room. But he is 39 and not the intimidating presence he once was.  Questions popped up after the release about how all this went down. Did he ask to be let go? Did the Steelers just cut him without any input from him?

Well, acccording to a statement released by James Harrison on his Instagram feed, he asked the Steelers for his release multiple times and all he got from the team was lip service.  They didn't call him after he cleared waivers, and New England called him and he signed.  I pretty much figured that he asked for release, although I thought that pertained to the most recent events.  But he made what he thought was a business decision. And I have no problem with it. I'm still a Steeler fan, although I don't see the world thru black and gold lenses. I do not consider myself a Yinzer that looks at the Steelers as my personal warriors or defenders.  I see the team for what it is: a professional football organization dedicated to winning. They use their players to achieve that end, and the players get paid handsomely for their services and can come and go as they please. Once a player is cut or released, they are free to try and find a gig with another team. Professional sports is a business. Nothing more. I root for the jersey first before the player who wears it. The players owe me nothing.  Like it or not, yinzers. To the Steelers and the other 31 teams in the NFL, the players are expendable . Some more than others. And please don't say that Art Rooney would not have done this. He let Franco Harris go to Seattle back in the '70s. Good luck to James Harrison in his future endeavors.

If he decides to come back and retire as a Steeler, I'll welcome him back. But I have no animosity towards James Harrison or any other player who leaves the team for presumably greener pastures. They are doing what they have to do to survive in the NFL. Every player has a window of opportunity in order to make as much money as they can while they are able to play in this league. The average life span of an NFL player is about 3.5 years.  Some players stick around for 15-20 years, some barely make it out of training camp.  During that time, they're trying to make money to support their families. Some will take the 'hometown discount' to stay with their chosen team because they like the city, the fans, etc. They hope to retire as a member of that team.  And while those players are becoming few and far between, such loyalty is laudable and it makes the fans happy. Others, are looking to make as much money as they can during that limited window of peak earning potential and if that means getting a better deal from another team once their contract is up or they get let go, so be it. Pro sports are a business. Players come and go. Teams exploit players and players exploit teams.  Root for the jersey.