James Harrison and Kendle Haught
Linebacker James Harrison's image took a beating this past weekend…and it was a good thing.
Harrison, who is known as a fierce competitor, also has a soft side that many don't see.
"He is really a teddy bear, a teddy bear in disguise," said fellow linebacker James Farrior. "I don't want to blow his cover, but he is a softie when it comes to kids.
"He tries to be a tough guy all of the time. But we see a soft side, this is the other side. He is a great family man, loves his kids and loves the people that support him. He is always willing to give back."
The softer side was on display when the James Harrison Family Foundation hosted a Brunch with Santa at Heinz Field. Harrison posed with guests and Santa and listened in as kids told Santa what they want for Christmas.
"I guess it's hurting my image a little bit," said Harrison. "I might be considered soft. On the field and off the field are two different things. I play a violent game. I can't go out there with a smile on my face and do my job to the best of my ability."
The foundation was recently started by Harrison after fans began to send him money to pay for his fines this year.
"James decided recently with the outpouring of support from his fans, the best way to give back was to start the foundation," said Beth Tibbot, CEO of the James Harrison Family Foundation and Harrison's girlfriend. "When he saw the support, he thought what better way to give back than do this."
Harrison has been fined $125,000 by the NFL this year and fans sent in donations to help the linebacker.
"I wanted to do this and the timing wasn't right before," said Harrison. "With the outpouring of support I got from my fans, the timing was right. I wanted to do something with the money. I didn't need it for myself.
"It's better to give than receive. Right now I am in a position where I can give more than most. My role might be more than just being a professional football player– it's time for me to do something a lot bigger."
Harrison's goal is to do whatever he can to help children in need and that is why he donated a portion of the proceeds from the event to the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Harrison has been involved with the MDA Muscle Team for the past few years and formed a special bond with MDA Ambassador Kendle Haught.
"It's so nice for him to start this foundation for families in need, families like mine and others," said Haught, an eight-year old from Washington, Pa. "On the field he is a whole different person than he is here. He does so many good things for families. He might be tough on the field, but he is a nice, caring person with a huge heart."
In addition to helping MDA, guests were encouraged to bring winter outwear or toys to the event to donate to the Women's Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh.
"He is blessed with a wonderful platform to help others and he is making the most of it," said linebacker Larry Foote, who signed autographs for guests along with Farrior, Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley. "By using money donated from the fines, he has taken an ugly situation and turned it in to something good. The Steelers nation is a part of us, they felt bad how he was getting fined, they sent in their hard earned money and it was turned into a good situation."
And his efforts inspired not just those benefitting from the event, but his teammates as well. Woodley, who had just learned that the foundation was started with the donations, said he is impressed with the character it shows. And for Timmons, it has made him want to do more in the community.
"You see how much good it does and it motivates you to want to do the same thing," said Timmons. "When it comes to kids, he has a very soft spot. He is not tough at all and he won't admit it. It's just window dressing."
One of the most touching moments of the brunch was when Haught gave Harrison a Christmas stocking with Hope on it and said that Harrison gives hope to her family and others like them. And that is what he hopes for, as he holds close the theory of never giving up.
"That's the message in life to never give up," said Harrison. "If I gave up on things people told me I couldn't do, I wouldn't be in the position I am in now. Never give up on something you want to do until you have exhausted every option."