The NFL says it investigated Cleveland defensive end Myles Garrett’s allegation that Pittsburgh quarterback Mason Rudolph directed a racial slur at him prior to last Thursday’s on-field brawl.
“We looked into it and found no such evidence,” league spokesman Brian McCarthy said.
Now the league should decide if additional punishment is merited on Garrett, who is already dealing with an indefinite suspension (season-long at a minimum). He got that for ripping Rudolph’s helmet off in a Nov. 14 game and swinging it violently at his unprotected head. The league upheld that sanction Thursday.
In a Wednesday appeal hearing, ESPN reported that Garrett claimed that Rudolph used a racial slur before the brawl. Garrett is black. Rudolph is white. That allegation opened an additional can of worms.
If the NFL found evidence that Rudolph had used a slur then he should have been punished. There is no place for it on the field or anywhere else. Such an act is designed to strip power and dignity from the victim.
Making a false claim of racism is also an act designed to strip power and dignity, and Rudolph, no matter how weak the allegation, is stuck with the fallout. It is nearly impossible to fully prove a negative and it’s even worse with a charge this reprehensible. No doubt some segment of society will believe he is guilty no matter what.
“This is a lie,” Rudolph’s attorney, Timothy Younger said in a statement. “This false allegation was never asserted by Garrett in the aftermath of the game, never suggested prior to the hearing, and conspicuously absent in the apology published by the Browns and adopted by Garrett … [it] is far worse than the physical assault witnessed on Thursday.”
It is. So what can be done about it?
The NFL stopped short of saying Garrett was lying or that the allegation was false. It just said the investigation yielded “no evidence.” That’s how it is with these kinds of accusations. You can never truly know.
There is actually a decent amount of commonsense evidence that helps Rudolph.
Everything started when Rudolph took exception to a late hit in the final seconds of Cleveland’s 21-7 victory over Pittsburgh. As Garrett laid on top of him, Rudolph unsuccessfully tried to pull Garrett’s helmet off only to have Garrett flip the script and get Rudolph’s helmet off. He then swung it violently at Rudolph’s unprotected head.
After the game, Garrett never mentioned that Rudolph had issued a racial slur. Instead he repeatedly expressed remorse.
“What I did was foolish and I shouldn’t allow myself to slip like that,” Garrett said. “It’s out of character … It never should have gotten to that point, that’s on me.”
It seemed over. Then came the ESPN report which lacked specifics, but claimed the slur was directed “just prior” to the brawl. Presumably that doesn’t mean a play or two before, if only because Garrett likely would have reacted in the moment.
There are just three or four seconds between Garrett tackling Rudolph – which enraged Rudolph – and Garrett ripping Rudolph’s helmet off.
Publicly available video replay does not show any definitive lip-moving, although both men are wearing helmets during the moments in question.
There are, however, witnesses.
Standing just over Garrett and Rudolph at the time that a slur would have most likely been uttered was Steelers offensive tackle Matt Feiler, who almost immediately gets his head down into the scrum as he tries to play peacemaker. He couldn’t be closer.
Feiler told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette that he heard “nothing of the sort.” Feiler wasn’t asked if he had spoken to the NFL.
About a yard and a half away is another Steeler, guard David DeCastro. He almost immediately got into the fray. DeCastro was not available to the media Thursday. He has said nothing publicly and teammates said he never mentioned anything about it.
Then there is veteran NFL referee Clete Blakeman, who starts about 8 yards away from the incident but gets there very quickly to break it up. There has been nothing revealed that suggests Blakeman heard or was concerned about anything.
While there is the possibility that Rudolph said the slur with enough volume for Garrett to hear it but not the other players, that seems fairly unlikely. This would be in the heat of a major scrum. It would have to be at the perfect volume.
NFL stadiums are also mic’d up and there is the possibility that some sound could have been picked up. None has emerged.
This entire allegation appears to have been completely unknown until the ESPN report broke. Even in the Cleveland locker room, players told the media this was the first they had heard about it and it hadn’t been mentioned by Garrett or anyone else.
This is particularly damaging to Garrett because if he was trying to build his appeal case on the slur being issued, it would make sense for either he or his legal team to ask other Browns players if they heard it. Adding witnesses would have strengthened his defense (although the NFL still may not have found slamming someone with a helmet to be an appropriate response).
To not do this is either a sign of an incompetent defense or one that lacked confidence in its claim.
There is also the fact Garrett didn’t mention it right after the game. This isn’t, on its own, proof that it didn’t happen. He could argue there were many reasons to stay quiet at that moment. He was still in shock. He was humiliated. He didn’t want to take the focus off his own mistakes.
However, for nearly a week to pass with neither he nor his lawyers mentioning it publicly, or even privately to teammates and team officials, is troubling.
Garrett even issued an additional statement where he both accepted blame and singled out Rudolph for an apology.
“Last night, I made a terrible mistake,” Garrett said last Friday. “I lost my cool and what I did was selfish and unacceptable … I want to apologize to Mason Rudolph.”
Is that what you’d say, with a day to calm down, to a guy who hurled a slur at you? If Garrett was going to go down this road, he should have been more thorough in his accusation.
The NFL is certainly making it clear that it found no reason to believe Garrett, although it has stopped short of declaring him a liar.
That distinction will likely spare Garrett further penalty, although he’s in enough trouble already. Also in Garrett’s favor is that he never made the accusation in public and is a victim, of sorts, of leaks to the media from what is supposed to be a confidential hearing.
Regardless, it’s a terrible look and an ugly bookend to an already ugly situation.
If nothing else, Myles Garrett should further explain himself because if not Mason Rudolph is left wondering where to go to get his reputation back.
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