ESPN – A day after his comments went viral, former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison on Friday clarified that coach Mike Tomlin never paid him for a 2010 helmet-to-helmet hit on Cleveland Browns receiver Mohamed Massaquoi and that there wasn’t a “Bountygate” system in place.
“The G-est thing Mike Tomlin ever did, he handed me an envelope after that [hit on Massaquoi],” Harrison told Barstool’s “Going Deep” podcast on May 6. “I’m not going to say what, but he handed me an envelope after that.”
Harrison took to Instagram on Friday to say Tomlin never put a bounty on anyone.
“Wow y’all really comparing what I said to BOUNTYGATE?!?,” Harrison wrote. “Mike T. Has NEVER paid me for hurting someone or TRYING to hurt someone or put a bounty on ANYBODY! If you knew the full story of what happened back then you’d know that BS fine for a Legal Play wasn’t even penalized during the game.”
Steelers president Art Rooney II strongly disputed Harrison’s initial claim in a statement issued Thursday night.
“I am very certain nothing like this ever happened,” Rooney said. “I have no idea why James would make a comment like this but there is simply no basis for believing anything like this.”
Here’s video of the James Harrison hit of former Browns WR Mohamed Massaquoi:
We all know how football was back in 2010. Remember ESPN’s “Jacked Up” segments?
It was basically a walking ad for helmet-to-helmet hits and CTE. While the culture has changed significantly for the better in the NFL, it certainly doesn’t seem implausible that a hard hitting, defense-forward team like Pittsburgh may have rewarded guys for big hits back in the day. The league was less sharp on the ramification of these violent collisions, at least publicly. If Harrison’s initial version of the story were true, I wouldn’t necessarily find it to be a hideous reflection on the team. I believe you can’t police 2010 actions with 2020 morals.
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But it’s also entirely possible that James Harrison got caught in a little fib for the sake of looking cool. I’m deeply familiar with Barstool from my many years working there and it’s a unique environment. If you put James Harrison on ESPN, he wouldn’t be too concerned about looking cool for the audience. But for athletes who do an interview with Barstool, there is likely more of a penchant to exaggerate. With Barstool’s young and massive following, there’s a desire to come off as different than one would be on a regular sports network. James Harrison may have told his equivalent of a “big fish” story because a lot of their content evokes a conversation between guys at a bar. Maybe Harrison was being more honest because of it, maybe he was embellishing a story for emphasis. Either way, it doesn’t seem worth a lot of hand wringing to me.
Also, an interesting tangent: Mohamed Massaquoi only played four years in the NFL with no seasons over 700 receiving yards. But after a serious ATV accident, he had his left hand amputated. He now uses his Harvard Business School MBA for a strategic consulting firm and gives speeches and workshops. Maybe James Harrison could throw Mohamed Massaquoi some consulting fees to teach him how to not put his foot in his mouth in public next time.
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