sunday_links.jpgby Scott Benson

So at some point(s) over the last two years, Patriots safety Rodney Harrison obtained and took the banned substance HGH as he tried to come back from a debilitating series of injuries that threatened to end his NFL career.

As prevelant as this issue is in our present day society, you could not have seen this coming.

Harrison, a man who has been all but mythologized by New England fans, broke the rules of the game he hoped to one day officiate. He cheated, and in the end, it doesn’t really matter why. Because either way, he let himself down, and his team, and the game he so clearly lives to play. And now everything he’s accomplished in his 13 seasons will be called into question. An exemplary football life is now stained, and the judgment – in a world that demands it in an instant – will be harsh.

Particularly for Harrison, who came to the Patriots in 2003 as an established NFL star but soon become something somehow bigger. With his fierce playing style and heart-on-his-casted-sleeve emotion, he became simply ‘Rodney’ to many New England fans. The first name alone came to have it’s own meaning: don’t eff with us. Patriots fans have come to see Harrison as a sort of big brother that protects you from getting rolled for your lunch money. There is not a single bully anywhere in the NFL that Patriots fans don’t think will turn tail and run the minute ‘Rodney’ shows on the playground.

And now he’s going to pay for it.

The Insta-pundits will make damn sure of that. They’ll be the first to write off Harrison as a degenerate criminal worthy of our everlasting contempt. They’ll be the first to label his entire career – and everything it touched, even two Lombardi Trophies – a sham.

They’ll be the first to howl about an ineffectual league and filthy teams and players. They’ll be the first to assume everyone is guilty of something, like a gaggle of pathetic, clucking gadflies at a local selectmen’s meeting. They’ll be the first to feign ‘concern’ about ‘integrity’ and ‘accountability’ when all they really want is their daily pound of flesh.

They’ll be the first to mock Harrison’s public apology as ‘weak’ while never admitting that no mea culpa will ever be good enough for them, the New Knights of the Keyboard. They’ll be the first to decry the ‘hypocracy’ of Patriots fans who don’t immediately join them in their modern Coliseum, with thumbs turned decidedly downward.

This postulating will not be limited to just the print and broadcast media. In fact, the harshest and most immediate judgments on Harrison came within minutes of the announcement on Friday night, not from the media, but from fans themselves, on the message boards on which they gather. The ESPN crawl had not completed even one cycle of the news before electronic judges and juries began to hand down their verdicts.

Can reasonable people be disappointed in and discouraged by Harrison, and in fact, the league itself? Certainly. Is it reasonable to wonder if what we’ve seen of the player and his team and the league they play in is real, or simply some shady combination of mad science and elastic ethics? Why wouldn’t it be? This – the unknown – is the most profound consequence of Harrison’s lapse.

So is it reasonable that these issues be discussed, not dismissed? Held up to the light, not obscured by shadows? Without question.

But it’s also reasonable that the story that Harrison told on Friday could be at its core, the truth. That it was only the prospect of his football extinction that led him to embrace desperation and deceit. That perhaps his entire career hasn’t been a steroid-fueled fraud. That perhaps he legitimately earned what he has, as have the vast majority of his teammates and their contemporaries throughout the league.

I think those things ought to be at least considered before being summarily dismissed in an instant. I think Rodney Harrison has earned at least that much, especially here in New England. Earned enough to be spared knee-jerk labels like punk and criminal. Even with his sins, even as he brings upon himself and his team a fate worse than the injuries he sought to overcome, he’s entitled to better than the Microwave Justice of the Insta-pundits.

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