The Browns’ 21-7 win over the Steelers on Thursday ended with one of the ugliest scenes you will ever seen in sports: Cleveland’s Myles Garrett ripping the helmet off of Pittsburgh QB Mason Rudolph and then hitting him in the head with it.
It honestly looked like something from a bad football movie — an outlandish plot line about an out-of-control team.
There’s plenty of sorting out to do, but here are some thoughts in the aftermath:
1 Garrett should be suspended for at least the rest of the season.
The longest suspension for an on-field incident in NFL history came in 2006 when the Titans’ Albert Haynesworth was suspended five games for stomping on an opponent’s head — a deed that required 30 stitches to fix.
If that was the penalty in the “old” NFL — the era when the league was busy not just denying brain injuries but when debilitating hits were celebrated on TV segments like “Jacked Up” — then the bare minimum for Garrett has to be a longer suspension than what Haynesworth received. One more than five is six — which as luck would have it is the number of games left in the Browns’ season. I would like it if it was longer. I wouldn’t be satisfied with anything less.
Update: Looks like the NFL did the right thing here, suspending Garrett “indefinitely,” and at least through the rest of this season and playoffs.
2 There is no “both sides” to this
The desire to report on and present contrasting viewpoints of a situation is a bedrock of journalism and a good instinct in a lot of cases. But it breaks down sometimes into validating or normalizing flat-out wrong behavior, which we’ve seen in political reporting. And I think this is another case where at least in the outcome there aren’t two sides to tell.
There were two sides when Rudolph and Garrett were tussling on the ground. There were two sides when Rudolph looked like he was trying to take Garrett’s helmet off. There were still even two sides when Garrett took off Rudolph’s helmet.
There are not two sides when one player hits another player in the head with a helmet. One is clearly wrong and is the way-over-the-line aggressor.
3 Good for Baker Mayfield
The reaction of the Browns QB is only a small piece of this story, and we shouldn’t take our eye too far off the ball. But it was refreshing to see him call it like it was in the immediate postgame aftermath, telling sideline reporter Erin Andrews that Garrett’s actions were “inexcusable.” That might go against locker room culture of always defending a teammate or at least deflecting a question like that, but Mayfield was honest and accountable in the moment.
4 Come on, Freddie Kitchens
The Browns coach did say Garrett’s actions were “embarrassing,” but in a separate question about how it (and several other chippy moments, including a brutal helmet-to-helmet hit) reflect on Kitchens and his team, he said this: “I don’t know. That’s for you guys to decide. I just know that, while I’m the head coach here, that’s not gonna be acceptable, in any form, fashion, anything.”
And yet it happened. A coach can’t control everything that happens on a field, but he can set a tone.
5 Legal action?
If there’s any good news it’s that Garrett’s helmet swing doesn’t appear to have done more damage to Rudolph. The outcome could have been much, much worse. If that would have happened in a bar or some other venue, it would have been an assault with the possibility of jail time. On the football field? Well, maybe it still is.
Rudolph’s agent reportedly isn’t ruling out legal action. My guess is that nothing will happen on that front, but it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t.