BEREA, Ohio (AP) Two of the nastier hits Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison delivered on Cleveland players last Sunday are getting all the publicity.
Browns center Alex Mack said there were more.
“If you watch the game film, (Harrison) was doing that to everyone on every play,” Mack said Thursday. “People would be on the ground and he would try to spear them. There’s a play on film where (running back) Peyton Hillis is tackled and he comes up and spears him. It’s like you’re being cheap, you’re being dirty.”
Harrison was fined $75,000 for his hard, helmet-to-helmet hit on Browns wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, one of several devastating blows on an unusually violent Sunday of head-high collisions around the NFL. Harrison’s hit on Massaquoi – and one that knocked out Browns Pro Bowler Joshua Cribbs on a running play – helped prompt commissioner Roger Goodell to crack down and impose significant fines and suspensions players for hits to the head and neck.
Neither of Harrison’s hits drew penalties during the Steelers’ 28-10 win. Ironically, Mack was flagged for delay of game for kicking the ball out of bounds on the play when Massaquoi was injured. Both Massaquoi and Cribbs sustained concussions and haven’t practiced this week.
Mack said Harrison wasn’t just hurting the Browns. He was doing damage to himself.
“The helmet-to-helmet with Cribbs is a little more innocent, to some extent,” Mack said. “You’re still leading with your head. It’s a dumb move no matter what you do. First of all, you’re ruining your own brain and you’re damaging other people.
“It’s your brain.”
Mack is the first Cleveland player to publicly denounce Harrison as “dirty” and question his tackling tactics. In fact, a few of the Browns, including Cribbs and Hillis, said they didn’t feel Harrison’s hits warranted any punishment.
On his Twitter page, Cribbs wrote that he didn’t believe Harrison, a former teammate at Kent State, was trying to hurt him.
“I have no bad will towards LB James Harrison,” Cribbs tweeted. “That’s what he’s supposed to do: knock people out. It’s what makes him one of the best. … He is still my boy … It is unfortunate, but our sport is brutal. We will both bounce back & compete again real soon. … Oh yeah & we play each other twice!”
Browns coach Eric Mangini said Cribbs and Massaquoi have improved. He hopes both players will practice Friday. Cleveland is at New Orleans Sunday.
Tight end Evan Moore, who sustained a concussion earlier this season against Kansas City, believes players should be reprimanded for leading with their helmets. He doesn’t think Harrison was headhunting the Browns, but feels his tackling style is unwarranted.
“He was just playing his game,” Moore said. “I’m not trying to say that his game is dirty. I’m just saying he’s made a habit of hitting like that. I don’t think launching into a guy’s head makes you a tough player. Harrison is a good, strong, tough player but that’s not what makes him tough and that’s something I think is unnecessary.”
Mack, a first-round draft pick last season from California, is pleased with the media attention being given to the violent hits, especially the ones on defenseless players. Mack believes the league should do all it can to protect and educate its players.
“A lot of the arguments right now are people are taught from Pee Wee football that this is how you play,” Mack said Thursday. “Well, we need to change that. You can’t be breaking your head. There are better ways to tackle. We’re taught you’re not supposed to spear with the top of your head.”
On Wednesday, Goodell sent a memo and video to all teams explaining the reasons for the increase in penalties against offenders. He said players are expected to play within the rules, and that coaches and teams will also be subject to penalties.
Several players said they were confused about the changes, with some on the defenders’ side saying they were being unfairly targeted.
“Unfortunately, defensive players look like the bad guys in this,” Browns linebacker Scott Fujita said. “But there’s a lot of guys on those offensive lines who are dirty, too.”
Mack said it will be difficult for many coaches and players to change their ways after years of conditioning. However, in light of medical studies linking head injuries to long-term medical conditions like dementia, Mack, who hopes to play 10 years in the league, understands the urgency.
“When you’re taught a certain way, you’re going to keep doing it,” Mack said. “It needs to change, though. I saw that ‘Real Sports’ show with the connection between Lou Gehrig’s Disease and concussions. That is scary. I was watching and thinking, ‘Why am I playing this game when I could be physically handicapped for the rest of my life.
“It’s a scary thing. It’s good to see there’s some progress to try and protect people.”