By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — James Harrison and Tom Brady are both two of the oldest players in the NFL, but that’s not all they have in common.
Both players have found themselves in the crosshairs by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, largely for reasons that remain unexplained. The two might have plenty to talk about, once they get done taking selfies together.
Brady’s history with Goodell has been well-documented, but as a brief recap: the Colts were suspicious of ball deflation in the 2014 AFC Championship Game, NFL employees botched the testing procedure to test the PSI levels of the footballs, the NFL leaked false numbers to the media and lied to the Patriots about the measurements, the NFL paid Ted Wells millions of dollars to run an investigation with a predetermined outcome, the league levied unprecedented and unwarranted punishments on the Patriots and Brady, the league fought the case all the way to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, the league tested footballs the following season which showed that science actually exists and PSI levels do fluctuate based on their environment, and the league then destroyed all of that data upon learning that they were wrong the whole time.
All the while, Brady and Goodell have maintained a cordial relationship, with Brady taking the high road whenever asked about the two-year fiasco he was forced to go through in his late 30s. (His “Roger that” commercial after winning Super Bowl LI was as close as Brady has ever come to talking trash about the commissioner. Largely, Brady seems to just focus on the positive things in his life. It seems to be working for him.)
Harrison, on the other hand, has not taken the high road when speaking about Goodell over the years.
Harrison’s history with Goodell mostly involved the linebacker being in the wrong place at the wrong time. For decades, the style of play that Harrison employed on the football field was not only legal but encouraged. He hit offensive players, and he hit them hard.
But with the league in the early days of a full-blown concussion crisis, the NFL had to start getting serious about violent hits — or at least, give the impression that it was getting serious about violent hits.
Harrison ended up becoming the NFL’s poster boy for violent play. He was fined four times during the 2010 season — after Week 2, Week 6, Week 8, and Week 10 — leading to Harrison questioning whether he could still be an effective football player. (In a tremendous instance of hypocrisy, the NFL sold a photo of one of the hits which drew the fine.)
Harrison met face-to-face with Goodell during the season to discuss the fines, a meeting which Harrison said was “semi-productive, I guess.”
The following offseason, though, Harrison was a bit more honest with his thoughts about the commissioner.
In a Men’s Journal article that featured a shirtless Harrison holding up a pair of guns, Harrison did not hold back. At all.
“My rep is James Harrison, mean son of a bitch who loves hitting the hell out of people,” Harrison said. “But up until last year, there was no word of me being dirty – till Roger Goodell, who’s a crook and a puppet, said I was the dirtiest player in the league. If that man was on fire and I had to piss to put him out, I wouldn’t do it.”
In case it wasn’t quite clear, Harrison added a fairly straightforward comment: “I hate him and will never respect him.”
There was more.
“What I tried to explain to Goodell, but he was too stupid to understand, is that dudes crouch when you go to hit them,” Harrison said. “With [Mohamed] Massaquoi, my target area was his waist and chest, but he lowered himself at the last possible second and I couldn’t adjust to his adjustment. But Goodell, who’s a devil, ain’t hearing that. Where’s the damn discretion, the common sense?”
Harrison also accused the NFL of racism with regard to the way fines are distributed.
“Clay Matthews, who’s all hype … I’m quite sure I saw him put his helmet on Michael Vick and never paid a dime,” Harrison said. “But if I hit Peyton Manning or Tom Brady high, they’d have f—-d around and kicked me out of the league. … I slammed Vince Young on his head and paid five grand, but just touched Drew Brees and that was 20 [grand]. You think black players don’t see this s— and lose all respect for Goodell?”
In that same article, Harrison expressed regret for losing the Super Bowl, because he wanted to share a stage with Goodell.
“I’d have whispered in his ear, ‘Why don’t you quit and do something else, like start your own league in flag football?'” Harrison shared.
That didn’t help his cause.
Harrison was suspended for a game in the 2011 season for a hit on Browns quarterback Colt McCoy. Under the league’s new focus on helmet-to-helmet hits, Harrison became the first player to be suspended.
Harrison’s interaction with the league office and Goodell cooled after that for several years. But in December of 2015, Harrison was one of the athletes named in the Al Jazeera documentary who reportedly purchased HGH from a man named Charlie Sly.
Goodell and the NFL required all the players named in the report — Harrison, Matthews, Manning, Julius Peppers and Mike Neal — to meet with investigators. Failure to do so would result in a suspension.
Harrison was not having it.
Harrison outright refused to participate in an investigation which he said was based on no evidence. He agreed to meet with Goodell only if the commissioner traveled to Harrison’s house, and he wanted the entire interview to be broadcast live.
“I wouldn’t have a problem with it being filmed live,” he said in the summer of 2016. “I’ve been prosecuted and persecuted publicly in the media by [the NFL] for something I didn’t do, so I don’t see why we couldn’t have the media there and do a live interview. They can ask the questions and I can answer them, and y’all can see whatever evidence it is they say they got.”
Harrison also repeated his stance that Goodell is a “crook.”
Harrison eventually met with the NFL, and the league imposed no discipline on the named players.
Two years earlier, Harrison had publicly antagonized Goodell when the commissioner was caught up in the Ray Rice controversy:
As has been evident over the past eight years, Harrison cares very little for the man in charge of the NFL, and he’s made it very clear. Brady has been much more tight-lipped regarding his personal feelings toward Goodell, but it does seem likely that Harrison has found a kindred spirit in his new teammate.
(They might have to have a conversation or two about this, though.)