San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has been known to take issue with those who would, in his view, twist his words.
Harbaugh felt a need to set the record straight Monday regarding another sensitive subject: what he said in June regarding players from the NFC West-rival Seattle Seahawks testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, specifically Adderall.
Back then, Harbaugh responded to a question about the Seahawks by saying he "definitely noticed" suspensions handed down to Seattle players. He brought up Adderall later in the same answer, suggesting agents could be blaming the prescription drug for positive tests. He answered a followup question by saying the 49ers want to be "above reproach" in everything they do, punctuating those remarks by referencing a Bo Schembechler quote about cheaters having already lost.
We pick up the action Monday, when reporters covering the 49ers brought up the subject in relation to Eric Wright, the cornerback San Francisco tried to acquire from Tampa Bay. Wright reportedly tested positive for Adderall while with the Buccaneers last season. His trade to the 49ers fell through when the team failed Wright on a physical examination. Harbaugh referred Wright-related questions to general manager Trent Baalke.
Reporter: During mini-camp you had some pretty strong words about the Seahawks and their Adderall problem and Eric Wright --
Harbaugh: I don’t agree with that.
Harbaugh: The way you characterized it.
Reporter: You don’t agree with how I characterized it?
Reporter: You don’t think those were strong words?
Harbaugh: That I was aware?
Reporter: Well, you said you wanted to make sure that your guys didn’t do stuff like that, that you played by the rules, and yet Eric Wright did have some of that. Were you aware of that when you signed him, that that was in his past?
Harbaugh: What I’m going to say is, like I just said, talk to Trent on that. He’s a better person to talk to about it. He’s got a clear understanding of the transaction.
Reporter: You did say that, I think you said, you wanted to be above reproach or beyond reproach.
Harbaugh: Correct. That hasn’t changed.
Reporter: Do you think that everyone on your roster qualifies for that at this point?
Harbaugh: I think our guys do a great job of playing within the rules, yes. And as a coach you anticipate and you deal with things as they occur. Anticipate and resolve.
We've discussed Harbaugh's comments and how they related to Wright in some depth. Some Seattle fans have branded the 49ers as hypocritical for trying to acquire a cornerback linked to Adderall not long after Harbaugh made comments about Adderall and the need to stay above reproach. Some 49ers fans have objected, suggesting it's unfair to judge Harbaugh or the 49ers for any offenses a player committed before joining the team.
Harbaugh would have us believe his comments about Adderall were not specific to the Seahawks. In his view, he merely acknowledged having noticed a run of PED-related suspensions affecting Seattle over the past couple seasons. The other comments, this thinking goes, were about his own team and the need to stay above reproach.
We're not going to change minds on this one, most likely. But it's important to close the circle on these comments when Harbaugh addresses them the way he did Monday. Words matter to him, and if he thinks you're twisting them, expect him to put up a fight.