You probably saw that ugly fight toward the end of last week’s Cleveland Browns–Pittsburgh Steelers game. Shortly after Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph threw a pass, Browns defensive end Myles Garrett tackled him and brought him to the ground, and the two started scuffling. Garrett grabbed Rudolph by the facemask, managed to yank off the quarterback’s helmet, and a moment later, consumed with rage, swung the helmet at Rudolph’s head. Thankfully it was only a glancing blow with the bottom of the helmet; it is not unthinkable that a football helmet hitting a man’s head at full force could crack his skull.
The NFL suspended Garrett indefinitely, adding that the suspension would be, at minimum, for the rest of the year. The league also gave multiple-game suspensions to several other players who participated in the fight.
Thursday, while appealing to the league to lessen his suspension, Garrett claimed Rudolph called him a racial slur just prior to the brawl.
Garrett encountered quite a bit of skepticism over this claim. He never mentioned it at all in any interview over the past week, and his post-game statement declared that he had made “a terrible mistake,” and selfishly “lost his cool,” and apologized to Rudolph.
Rudolph’s lawyer called the Garrett’s racism allegation a lie. Garrett’s teammate, quarterback Baker Mayfield “seemed pretty stunned” when he was told of the new allegation, and told a reporter that it “wasn’t something he’d [previously] heard, including from anyone on the team.” But several of Garrett’s teammates also said that they didn’t think he would lie about something so consequential.
The league announced Thursday afternoon that it could find no evidence to confirm Garrett’s accusation. Late Thursday, Garrett turned to Twitter, suggesting that someone had unfairly leaked the accusation, which he’d intended to remain private: “I was assured that the hearing was space that afforded the opportunity to speak openly and honestly about the incident that led to my suspension,’’ Garrett wrote. “This was not meant for public dissemination, nor was it a convenient attempt to justify my actions or restore my image in the eyes of those I disappointed.”
You’re already hearing the comparisons of Garrett to actor Jussie Smollett. While it’s theoretically possible that Rudolph used the slur, and no other player heard it, and Garrett chose not to mention it to anyone else for an entire week before choosing to tell the league in his appeal . . . many will choose to believe a simpler explanation: Garrett lost his temper, did something terrible, and when facing the end of his 2019 season and a possible penalty carrying over into 2020, made a false accusation to make his actions seem justifiable, in hopes that the league would reduce his punishment.
Many will see this as the latest example of a person caught in an embarrassing situation and playing the race card to avoid accountability. Others may be reminded of a recent phenomenon of those caught in scandals quickly and cynically embracing some progressive cause to use as a shield. When confronted with numerous allegations of sexually predatory behavior, Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein offered a disingenuous apology and recast himself as a newly energized activist for gun control: “I am going to need a place to channel that anger, so I’ve decided that I’m going to give the NRA my full attention. I hope Wayne LaPierre will enjoy his retirement party.”
Upon being confronted with allegations of attempting to seduce a 14-year-old actor in 1986, Kevin Spacey declared, “I choose now to live as a gay man.”
Shortly after the revelations of racist photos on his medical-school-yearbook page, Virginia governor Ralph Northam declared that, “It’s obvious from what happened this week that we still have a lot of work to do. . . . This has been a real, I think, an awakening for Virginia. It has really raised the level of awareness for racial issues in Virginia. And so we’re ready to learn from our mistakes.” Notice that odd pronoun “we”; apparently all Virginians bear some responsibility for the photos that got Northam in trouble.
But it’s worth noting that the gambit didn’t really work for Weinstein and Spacey; it didn’t lead anyone to to cut these famous, powerful, wealthy men any slack. Jussie Smollett did not return to Empire, and while Cook County state’s attorney Kim Foxx chose to drop all charges in a decision that generated a second firestorm of controversy, the city ended up suing the actor, aiming to recover $130,106 spend on the police investigation. He is currently counter-suing the city for “malicious prosecution.”
Northam hung on, and his party enjoyed wins in this year’s state legislative elections, but that more likely reflects the scandals involving the two Democratic officials in line to replace him and the fact that he’s term-limited. No Democrat is clamoring for him to continue his political career after his term ends. His damage control merely delayed his departure to obscurity.
And now Garrett’s suspension is intact. Pittsburgh sports columnist Tim Benz urged the league to add another game to the suspension “for advancing this unsupported charge against another union player, previously in good standing with the league.” He fears “what Garrett has done has stained Rudolph for life. There will always be some who associate Rudolph with being a racist. And that’s completely unfair, based on the lack of evidence we have.”
There will always be some who associate Rudolph with being a racist, but there will also likely be a larger group of people who associate Garrett with being a liar, or at the very least, see him as a man who offered an implausible counter-accusation after everyone saw him do something inexcusable. Garrett probably did more damage to his own reputation than Rudolph’s.
Why do something like this? Desperate people do desperate and stupid things. They’re facing dire consequences and frantically searching for an excuse to explain their conduct or at least mitigate the coming punishment. Yes, it would be better if people took full responsibility for their actions, with no ifs, ands, or buts. But that’s a tough standard to live up to when a person’s whole world is falling down around them. People often do stupid, self-destructive things when they’re cornered. The recent record dispels the notion that they usually get away with those things, and we can all be thankful for that.