James Harrison and Maurkice Pouncey Face a Fine over MGM Grand Charity Event
Two Pittsburgh Steelers players, James Harrison and Maurkice Pouncey, are at the heart of a controversy over a charity event held in the MGM Grand Casino in Las Vegas. The Post-Gazette reported that Harrison and Pouncey face fines from the NFL league office for their participation in an arm wrestling competition.
Thirty current and former NFL players took part in the Pro Football Arm Wrestling Championship over the weekend. Presumably, those players were compensated for their appearances. The National Football League prohibits its players from promotional appearances at casinos.
Harrison Promoted Event on Social Media
James Harrison promoted the arm wrestling championship over his Twitter and Instagram pages in the days leading up to the event. Harrison posted photos of him and pro arm wrestler Travis Bagent.
He also tweeted, “Lockin up with the Champ! Super Heavyweight Arm Wrestling World Champion travisbagent.”
On his Instagram page, the Steelers’ longtime edge rusher posted, “Out here with @beastmode (Marshawn Lynch) coachin up these boys for the Team Challenge.”
The event was filmed by CBS Sports and is going to be broadcast on May 27.
NFL Spokesmen Cite Ban on Casino Promotions
Joe Lockhart, an NFL spokesman, told USA Today the NFL opposes such appearances and would have blocked players from participating, had they known prior to the event happening. Lockhart said, “Had we been asked in advance if this was acceptable, we would have indicated that it was in direct violation of the gambling policy.”
Brian McCarthy, VP of Communications for the NFL, backed Lockhart’s assertion. Indicating the NFL would investigate and take appropriate actions, McCarthy said, “We just became aware of the event and will look into it further. This is a longstanding policy.”
2015 Tony Romo Fantasy Football Event
Both officials are correct about the longstanding policy. In June 2015, Tony Romo was supposed to host a fantasy football-related event which was supposed to be held in the Venetian Resort Hotel in Las Vegas. After arranging to have current and former players appear at the Venetian’s event, the NFL banned players from participation. The organizers of the fantasy football event, Fan Expo LLC, sued the NFL for more than $1 million.
Strikes For Kids Lawsuit
In 2016, the organizers of a charity event, Strikes For Kids, also sued the NFL for the havoc they wreaked on their charity event. Strikes For Kids planned an event with 25 NFL players that would have helped a charity, only to learn days before the fundraiser they would need to move the event from a casino to a local bowling alley.
Julie Pettit, an attorney for Strikes for Kids, labeled the NFL a “bully”. Mrs. Pettit said of the contradictions inherent in the NFL policy, “There’s no consistency with what the NFL does in regards to these policies. The NFL has a tenency to selectively enforce their own policies when it’s convenient for them or when it makes sense for them.”
Las Vegas Raiders and The NFL’s Inconsistency
The NFL argue, in such cases, that the players and organizers should have known about the ban. Media and fans at the time pointed out the NFL’s hypocrisy, since their teams had corporate sponsorship deals with daily fantasy football operators like DraftKings and FanDuel.
The charges of hypocrisy are greater over the James Harrison and Maurkice Pouncey arm wrestling competition. Two weeks ago, the NFL’s owners voted 31-1 to approve the Oakland Raiders’ relocation to Las Vegas. Since then, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters he has no plan to ban gambling on Las Vegas Raiders games when they move to the city in 2020.
Thus, the NFL sees no problem in relocating a franchise to a city where most of America’s legal sports betting happens. The announced Raiders move caused the price of shares in most Las Vegas casino companies’ stock to increase. Though the NFL sees no problem with casinos when it is good for the league’s pocketbook, so the argument goes, it does have a problem when the NFL is not helped.
Ban in NFL Players Manual
The NFL noted that players receive a manual of player conduct which is clear about the league’s ban on casino appearances. The key passage in the NFL players manual states players are banned “from engaging in any advertising or promotional activities that reasonably can be perceived as constituting affiliation with or endorsement of gambling or gambling-related activities including, without limitation.”
The manual goes on to stipulate that players are banned from “making promotional appearances at casinos or other gambling-related establishments”.
The same passage goes on to say that players are banned from events which are promoted by casinos, while they cannot lend their name or image to advertisements for casinos or casino events. The league is on firm ground when it comes to the ban, especially because Roger Goodell has wide-ranging authority under the collective bargaining agreement to determine policies involving player conduct.
James Harrison and Maurkice Pouncey Controversies
This is not the first time James Harrison has run afoul of the NFL. The league has fined Harrison numerous times for in-game infractions over the years, while James Harrison once called NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell “a crook” for his insistence that several players submit to testing and interrogations after an Al Jazeera report that four random NFL players (including Peyton Manning) used performance enhancing drugs. The main source of that story had recanted the charges, saying he simply made up four names off the top of his head. James Harrison also refused to attend White House appearances after the Steelers won the Super Bowls, though it should be noted Harrison equally boycotted a visit with George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
Maurkice Pouncey is no stranger to controversy, either. When Pouncey and his twin brother, Mike, were teammates of Aaron Hernandez on the Florida Gators. They were with Aaron Hernandez one night when Hernandez was alleged to have shot into a car full of passengers after a brief altercation at a Jacksonville bar. Years later, when Aaron Hernandez was arrested for murder in the Odin Lloyd case, both Maurkice and Mike Pouncey (a member of the Miami Dolphins) infamously wore ballcaps which supported Hernandez.