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Ex-Viking Napoleon Harris’ politics are in the people

NapoleHarris is seen this January file photo

Napoleon Harris is seen in this January file photo

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Updated: January 3, 2013 6:24AM



In 2006, when he started for the Minnesota Vikings, Napoleon Harris read Politics for Dummies on road trips.

James Jones, who worked the political scene in Chicago, appreciated that the Northwestern star and NFL starter returned to Dixmoor for parades and parties.

‘‘When they get that money, they go to L.A. or Florida. They’re not coming back here,’’ Jones said. ‘‘But Napoleon always came back home.’’

Along with other local leaders, Jones wanted to plant in Harris’ head the idea of trading pigskins for politics.

Today Harris, 33, is the state senator-elect for the 15th district, and he just announced he’s running for the congressional seat vacated by Jesse Jackson Jr.

After his final NFL season in 2008, Harris contemplated a career as a football analyst. His plans changed, though, while he operated his two Beggars Pizza franchises. He met people such as Evel Jones, who had a hard time finding a job to complement his class schedule at massage therapy school in Chicago.

‘‘A lot of places, they didn’t work around my schedule,’’ Jones said.

But Jones impressed Harris with his ambition, so he was allowed to attend classes three days a week, then work the other four days at Beggars Pizza in Harvey as a cook.

‘‘We’re all looking for something that we’re good at and make a contribution,’’ Harris said. ‘‘It’s not like he didn’t want to work. And he’s a great worker.’’

Jones, 23, graduates Dec. 22.

Politics for Dummies was fairly basic (‘‘I said, ‘It can’t be that simple,’ ” Harris said), but he was struck by a quote in the book by Abraham Lincoln after he had lost an election. That was something that intimidated Harris somewhat.

‘‘The fear of the unknown,’’ Harris said. ‘‘I can control the hours of operations of my businesses, but I can’t control the people who are going to elect me.’’

Harris, of course, had to overcome the stereotype of a former athlete.

‘‘People automatically think that because you played professional sports that you’re arrogant and you can’t relate to people — almost like a diva,’’ Harris said. ‘‘But I’m far from any of that. I get along with most people from all walks of life.’’

Erick Hawthorne of Flossmoor admitted he was ‘‘cautious’’ of Harris for that reason. But he heard him speak, and he was impressed with his candor and ideas.

‘‘He just wants to give back,” said Hawthorne, a retired real-estate agent who has volunteered to help Harris. ‘‘He’s a guy who is going to be accountable.’’

The reaction since he announced his intention to run for Jackson’s seat has been mostly but not completely positive, Harris said.

‘‘Some old-school politicians say, ‘Wait your turn. Don’t ruffle any feathers,’ ” Harris said.

But Harris has a simple answer, one that’s out of his hands: ‘‘The people will decide.’’

JENSEN’S NOTEBOOK

Good fit

Reports that the Oakland Raiders were going to release linebacker Rolando McClain, the eighth overall pick in 2010, were intriguing. A Butkus award winner at Alabama, McClain did something to upset new coach Dennis Allen. Sources confirmed there are some maturity issues.

McClain might be a great fit in Chicago, where he could learn what it takes to be a pro on and off the field from Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Nick Roach.

The Raiders, though, realized they can’t let a high pick like him walk, so they’ve suspended him for conduct detrimental to the team. Perhaps this will be a wake-up call for the young man, because he clearly has potential.

Bigger, better

According to STATS, the Bears and Seattle Seahawks are among the NFL’s top teams at getting ‘‘big sacks,’’ defined as those on third or fourth down or ones that result in a turnover or safety.

The Bears are second in the league with 18 ‘‘big sacks,’’ while the Seahawks are tied for third with 15. The league average is 11½.



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