Marvin Harrison is not your typical controversial NFL player.
He's never shot himself in a crowded New York City nightclub.
He's never called one quarterback gay, alienated himself from his next QB (and team), or done push-ups in his driveway while being interviewed.
And, no, he's never rained money on Las Vegas strippers.
But if the recent stories are true—and I, for one, think they are—Harrison isn't the quiet, goes-about-his-business, role-model type player he's always been perceived to be.
What he's accomplished, actually, is quite amazing. And I'm not talking about his prodigal 13-year NFL career that has included eight pro bowls and will certainly boost him up and into Canton one day.
It is remarkable, to me, that Harrison has managed to keep his profile under the radar his entire career. Even when he was hauling in hundreds of passes and catching every ball gunned his way by Peyton Manning, we never heard anything about Harrison's personal life.
Or his off-the-field personality.
Or...as reported by a recent ESPN The Magazine article, the not-so-pristine incidents involving the so-called "good guy."
The story reported that in 2003, before an AFC wild-card game, Harrison grabbed a New York Jets ball boy by the throat after a ball the kid was fielding violated Harrison's "personal space" as he played catch with Manning. Later, at a medical station, the boy's neck showed marks from Harrison's choke job.
Until reading the article, I had never heard of such an incident. I read the sports page every day.
Maybe that's because the boy never pressed charges. All he asked for was an apology, which he never received.
And that's not all. The story reported that in 2005, three nights before the Pro Bowl, Harrison again grabbed the neck of an innocent teenager. This time, the kid had shown the audacity to keep pestering Harrison for an autograph. So what was the Pro Bowler's response?
He took a swing at the kid, "then grabbed him by the throat and put an arm around his neck." After some more physical play—hey, maybe Marvin thought he was on the football field, right?—Harrison and his friends ran off.
And, yep, I never heard of this, either, at the time. Hey, maybe I'm simply forgetful or ignorant. But something tells me I'm not the only one who thought, until recently, that Harrison was a quiet, minds-his-own-business class act. Reticent and reclusive, yes, but a good person, a good citizen.
(In case you were wondering, no charges were pressed in the Honolulu beat down.)
Hopefully, now, people are starting to realize that the Marvin Harrison we think we've known all these years is a disguise. Not the football player—the man wearing No. 88, who's made all the great catches, ran all the identical routes and caught all the touchdowns is real.
There's nothing fake about Harrison's on-field performances, nothing to diminish his storied career.
But Harrison the man is simply not who we've thought he was.
He may even be a criminal.
No charges have been brought—isn't that a theme here?—but it is believed by many in Harrison's home neighborhood in North Philly that after a minor argument last April near one of many businesses owned by the Philly native, he fired several shots in his home streets.
He, allegedly, was aiming at the man whom he'd argued with, but instead struck a bystander in the back and shattered the windows of a car in which a two-year-old kid and his father sat. Thankfully, no one was badly injured.
Later, police matched five shell casings found in the area of the shooting with a model of a gun registered to the wide receiver. The gun is a Belgian-made semi-automatic that, apparently, is a military-type pistol which, according to the magazine, "fires bullets that pierce 48 layers of Kevlar."
In one word, dangerous. It is a popular gun because it's easy to conceal. Now doesn't that fit Harrison?
Nothing has been proved. Harrison acknowledge the argument but denied firing the gun. And so on. A typical story involving an athlete denying any wrongdoing. That's the boring part.
What's interesting is the shock the story created. When I first read, in April, about the incident, I almost dropped my cup of tea. Was it a typo? Marvin Harrison, shooting? Pacman Jones, sure. Chris Henry, no surprise. But with all the wide-receiver divas in the NFL, Harrison was the last guy I'd suspect of being involved in such a thing.
Others were just as surprised. Even to this day, the story hasn't gotten nearly the attention of a Terrell Owens press conference. Or take the Plaxico Burress saga. Sure, Plax is an idiot for taking a gun into a club and somehow shooting himself in the leg. Now, he'll more than likely spend time in jail instead of catch Eli Manning passes.
But consider this: If the story involving Harrison is true, which man committed a greater fault: The guy who shot himself or the guy who shot at another man? It's an easy answer, folks.
I won't even get into comparing Harrison and Owens. T.O. epitomizes the word "diva," but he's never come close to committing a crime, let alone nearly choked a ball boy.
We've always loved Harrison for his business-like approach to the game while loathing Owens' look-at-me persona. Fair enough—Harrison probably remains to this day a better teammate (although he shouldn't be called a great one; he's not exactly a "team" guy).
But now it's time Harrison be judged for his actions.
Any innocent can hide in the shadows. But when his innocence enters a gray area, even a quiet recluse like Harrison must be put under the microscope.
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