The NFL has a separate standard for James Harrison

After today’s announcement that James Harrison will be suspended one game for his helmet-to-helmet hit on QB Colt McCoy, I’m convinced the league has a personal vendetta against James Harrison. 

Harrison is the first player to get suspended for a tackle since the Packers’ Charles Martin got two games for a hit on Bears QB Jim McMahon in 1986. It’s been 25 years since we’ve seen a suspension like this. 

It’s Goodell’s first suspension for something that happened during play.  

While I believe Harrison’s hit is worthy of a flag and a fine, the reason he is being suspended has more to do with how he acts off the field than anything else. In the offseason, Harrison called Goodell a “crook and a puppet” and said “I hate him and will never respect him.” Harrison has also been unapologetic for many of his hits. He didn’t believe he did anything wrong when he hit McCoy last week. 

Until the NFL starts suspending other players for hits, there will be a double standard in my mind for any of Harrison’s greivances.  The NFL has made him the poster boy for “dirty players” and they have wasted no time in strengthening that image this season. The McCoy hit was Harrison’s first personal foul of the year. It’s also a type of hit that happens several times a week in the NFL. Yet the NFL feels the hit, combined with Harrison’s history, is the worst offense during a player committed in the NFL during the last 25 years. 

This reminds me of the NHL’s suspension of Pittsburgh Penguin F Matt Cooke last season. Like Harrison, Cooke was made the poster boy of dirty by the league. He was suspended 10 regular season games and 7 playoff games by the league late in the year for a hit against the New York Rangers. It was one of the longest suspensions in NHL history and unheard of at the time. The NHL, though, said it was the beginning of a new era in headshot enforcement so Penguins fans accepted the penalty, assuming it would be called evenly across the board.

Of course, that wasn’t the case. The league went back to handing out short suspensions of a game or two while Cooke missed an eternity and watchted the Penguins fall during the opening round of the playoffs from the press box.

Most football fans and national media will praise the suspension today. Harrison obviously doesn’t care about being fined and has shown no remorse. The only way to get through to him is to make him sit out a game, right? Not when you look at the history of the league. Players just don’t get suspended for illegal tackles. If this is the beginning of a new era, so be it. Yet I would wager you won’t see any other players suspended for a tackle the rest of 2011. Probably not in 2012 either. It might be another 25 years.

If it was any other player on any other team making that hit on McCoy, the punishment is likely a light fine. With Harrison and the Steelers (the only team to vote agains the current CBA), the penalty is the most severe in over two decades. There is a double standard.