James Harrison does his job well.   He crushes quarterbacks and running backs with a ferocity not seen in Pittsburgh since Mean Joe  Greene.  But it seems lately that every time he does it, NFL Commissioner Goddell wants a piece of the action.  So who is Harrison’s boss, the Pittsburgh Steelers or the NFL commissioner?

Harrison was fined again this week, $20,000 for a late hit to Saints quarterback Drew Brees.  This hit drew a penalty during the game, unlike his previous two hits that drew fines.  But apparently NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has anointed himself the Uber-Referee, and decreed an additional financial penalty be added to the penalty flagged on the field. 

Where is the NFL Player’s Association?  Why are they allowing this sort of nonsense?  If the league wants to outlaw certain hits, the way to do it is by changing the rules of the game, not by fining players for hits that the league’s own referees don’t penalize, or as in this case, have already issued penalties  on the field. 

For his part, Coach Mike Tomlin dismissed as absurd any claims by the NFL that Harrison should change his style of play. 

The NFL has lost its mind.  In microcosm, it is as totalitarian a system as any fascist or communist government ever devised.  Totalitarian leaders throughout history have always known that the way to keep the population enthralled and credulous at their power is to arbitrarily and capriciously impose penalties and rewards.   Keep the populace guessing about what comes next and they become servile and suppliant, willing to do anything to garner favor or to just keep from being punished.  When the NFL punishes perfectly legal behavior after the fact, or at its whim adds punishments to already punished behavior, it is doing much the same as any totalitarian leader ever has.

James Harrison and all his defensive mates across the league should organize a protest.  Pick a week–maybe the last week of the season–and simply refuse to do anything other than touch the opposing running backs, quarterbacks and receivers, pretending like they’re playing two-hand touch.  Of course, the offenses would run wild, with scores in the hundreds. 

But it would put an exclamation point to the absurdity of being asked to play professional football without being allowed to hit. 

It seems Goodell’s got it in for the Steelers.  He suspended Ben Roethlisberger for four games to start the season, for what, it’s not clear.   Apparently Big Ben likes the ladies, perhaps more than he should, but until he crosses a legal line and is convicted, rather than just accused, of sexual aggression, Goodell needs to leave him alone. 

Goodell undoubtedly thinks he’s making the NFL more fan-friendly by his arbitrary and capricious meting of punishments.  He’s not.  NFL fans know the game is a vicious and brutal exercise in mock hand-to-hand combat.  That’s why they watch.   If the fans wanted a glorified flag football league, presumably there’d already be one.  Goodell is ruining the game, not helping it.

The Steelers, in particular James Harrison and Troy Polamalu, are playing football the way their predecessors, Mean Joe Green and Jack Lambert played the game.  Those were good times.  These would be too.  If Goodell would get his nose out of the way.

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