Planes, Not Politics, Keep Harrison From Obama

So what was keeping Steelers linebacker James Harrison from visiting President Obama in the White House? Is he secretly a closeted black Republican in an NFL that had multiple players openly endorse Obama during the prior season? Nope. Is he opposed to Obama’s stance on torture, or Guantanamo, or the bailout for American automakers?

steelers plane

(Much more effective than a play-action pass in avoiding Harrison.)

Not at all. No, Harrison is just deathly afraid of flying - so much so that he doesn’t think a flight of a couple hours that isn’t absolutely required by his job is worth taking, even if it means he’ll get face time with the most powerful man in the world as soon as he touches down.

The revelation came via the PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, which broke the ratherĀ  surprising angle this afternoon. That makes the second time in some 28 hours that a significant NFL figure stepped aside from enhancing their national profile because of a fear of airplane flight. Obviously, now-former “Monday Night Football” pundit Tony Kornheiser was the other aerophobe (yes, that’s the clinical term for it) who took a backseat because he couldn’t handle cross-country flights, a revelation that Michael Wilbon said was the direct reason behind his resignation from the analyst’s booth in an online chat for THE WASHINGTON POST on Monday.

While both men already have a national reputation — Harrison for his big hits, Kornheiser for his big mouth — neither is immune to skipping out on a meet-and-greet with the President or dropping himself from a primo spot on the most culturally significant live sports broadcast on American airwaves. Howard Cosell wasn’t immune to that kind of a step toward anonymity, let alone Kornheiser or Harrison.

Still, once the decision is made, it’s all about managing the PR hit you take, and Kornheiser is doing a much better job of that than Harrison. While Mr. Tony ducked most questions about the decision at a charity golf event and had other talking heads deal with it for him, Harrison tried to change the focus of why he was skipping the event, all while ducking any mentions of his own fear of flight.

“Hey, James ain’t changed,” Harrison responded. “I guess my profile did but I didn’t change. I’m not going because I don’t want to go.”

“It’s not a good neighborhood over there either. It’s a bad neighborhood.”

“They’re making a big deal out of this: ‘Oh, my, James Harrison is not going to the White House, he must be a devil worshiper!’”

Let’s see, in the span of one quote, Harrison avoided tackling the issue head-on, offended D.C. citizens, in all likelihood killed his chance of becoming a Redskin in three years when he’s over the hill and just needs a pay day (and when Daniel Snyder would be apt to give it to him to hire a name), and then made light of Christian zealots. Check, check and check. That’s about as many people as you can infuriate in a quick run, isn’t it?

Note to self: When you can’t bear to confront a major phobia and decide to take a hit in reputation for it, be self-deprecating, not braggadocious and agressive.