Harrison defends White House snub

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison can't believe there's so much fuss being made about him skipping the Super Bowl champions' White House visit with President Barack Obama on Thursday.

Harrison will bypass the traditional ceremony, just as he did when the Steelers were honored by President George W. Bush at the White House in June 2006.

"Why is it a big issue now that I'm not going if it wasn't a big issue the last time?" Harrison said Tuesday after an offseason practice.

Harrison was a backup when the Steelers won the Super Bowl during the 2005 season, but was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year last season. His 100-yard interception return during Pittsburgh's 27-23 victory over Arizona is the longest scoring play in Super Bowl history.

"Hey, James ain't changed," said Harrison, whose longtime fear of flying may have played a role in his decision not to accompany his teammates to Washington. "I guess my profile did but I didn't change. I'm not going because I don't want to go."

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, citing "a well-placed source," reported Harrison is a "wreck" when he flies with the Steelers during the season and avoids riding on planes when possible.

"Yeah, there's a lot of truth to that," Bill Parise, Harrison's agent, told the newspaper. "When James was in college, his mother had to drive him to all the away games. That's the absolute truth. The transition for him into the NFL was real difficult at first.

"He can get on airplanes and fly, obviously, but he doesn't like to," he said, according to the report.

Harrison also said, but not seriously, that the White House isn't in one of Washington's safer areas.

"It's not a good neighborhood over there," he said. "It's a bad neighborhood."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.