Despite claims by the Steelers and even a Baltimore Ravens player who is no stranger to tough hits, the National Football League said it is not targeting linebacker James Harrison for illegal hits that have resulted in $125,000 in fines.
Ray Anderson, the league's executive vice president for football operations, said Harrison is not being singled out for violating the NFL's policy on illegal tackles, even though he has been fined on four separate occasions this season -- the most recent $25,000 for a helmet-leading hit on Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Even Terrell Suggs, a defensive end for the Ravens, said it appears Harrison has been "red-flagged" by the league and game officials.
"I would say that's misguided and, frankly, completely untrue," Anderson said Thursday in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Every team and every player, hopefully, will have the confidence that, if they play within the rules, we won't have this problem."
Anderson again stressed that repeat offenders, and possibly even those who flagrantly violate the league policy a first time, will be suspended -- even if the violations are not for helmet-to-helmet hits.
The fines are determined by Anderson and assistant director of operations Merton Hanks, a former NFL player, not commissioner Roger Goodell.
When told that Harrison said he will continue to play the same way and won't adjust his tackling technique, Anderson said, "We won't respond to any particular player and certainly we won't respond to players who may have appeal cases pending.
"But what we will say is, we expect every player to play within the rules. They're very clear so players and coaches should know the rules, particularly Rule 12 and its variations. If they aren't able to play within the rules, ultimately, they will be sitting and watching games like you and me and watching games from outside the stadiums of their NFL team.
"At the end of day, if they are not willing to make the adjustment, we're not backing off this because we know how important it is for all concerned."
Wide receiver Hines Ward on Wednesday called the NFL "hypocrites," questioning why a league that says it is concerned about player safety wants to increase the regular-season schedule from 16 to 18 games.
"The league is a joke," Ward said. "They don't care about the safety of players. For them to even try to make it 18 games lets you know they don't care."
Asked about Ward's charge, Anderson said, "I have no comment to Hines Ward."
Gerry Dulac: firstname.lastname@example.org.