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James Harrison Signing Comes Amid Heightened Concern Over Domestic Violence

The Pittsburgh Steelers earlier today officially re-signed outside linebacker James Harrison, who was originally released by the team before the 2013 season in a salary cap maneuver, and who only earlier this month officially retired from the game.

The move was prompted by the long-term injury sustained by Steelers second-year outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who was drafted in the first round in 2013 after Harrison was released, designated as his eventual successor as the blindside pass rusher.

Jones suffered a significant wrist injury after recording his second sack of the season on Sunday night, jamming his arm against teammate Brett Keisel’s leg as he spilled to the ground. He will miss at least the next eight weeks after being placed on the short-term IR list.

The injury left the team with just two outside linebackers on the roster, so it was obvious that a move would be made, and Harrison was an obvious choice, at least for on-field reasons.

He has, however, had some off-field concerns that could potentially make him a lightning rod for controversy, given what has taken place over the course of the past year. His history of controversial hits has not been limited to the football field.

Harrison was arrested on March 8, 2008 and charged with simple assault and criminal mischief after he and his girlfriend got into an argument regarding the baptism of their first son.

His girlfriend, Beth Tibbott, locked herself in a room, after which Harrison broke through the door, destroyed her cell phone as she attempted to call 911, and slapped her in the face “with an open hand and knocked off her glasses”, producing “red marks on her left cheek”.

Harrison left the scene and acknowledged the events of the incident when arrested by the police. He was open about the incident with the Rooney family, and the team elected to stand by him, despite the fact that they released another one of their players that same month for a domestic violence incident.

The NFL is currently facing perhaps the greatest public relations crisis in its history following its fumbling of the Ray Rice domestic incident, so it’s no surprise that the first question that head coach Mike Tomlin was asked about during his weekly press conference was regarding the team’s decision six-plus years ago to stand behind him then. This was his response:

“What you said first was probably the most appropriate: it’s been seven years, and it is a different climate. I’ve discussed directly that climate change with James, but knowing James over those seven years or eight years, he’s grown a lot, as has his lady, and I don’t anticipate that being an issue at all moving forward”.

Harrison completed anger management counseling following his arrest and release, and Tibbott did not want to prosecute him, resulting in the charges being dropped. The league, and the Steelers, never took any disciplinary action against him. Harrison and Tibbott remain together today and have two children, the youngest being born in 2009.

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