Debunking the Sports Media's Excuses for the Browns' Myles Garrett and the Helmet-Swinging Incident

Last week, there was quite a bit of confusion and outrage about an incident on Thursday Night Football when Myles Garrett got into an altercation with Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph, where the Browns’ defensive end ripped the helmet from his opponent’s head in the game’s meaningless final seconds, and then proceeded to ferociously swing it at Rudolph’s exposed skull.

Action from the League was swift, and Garrett was suspended indefinitely, with no established timeframe regarding his potential return.  It wouldn’t have been hard to predict, however, that the fans’ attention and furor around the incident would be short-lived, despite the act being tantamount to assault with a deadly weapon. 

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And as if right on cue, several apologists are hoping to shape fans’ opinions by making dubious excuses in order to suggest that Myles Garrett shouldn’t be punished to the fullest extent possible by the NFL.

None of these excuses makes the slightest bit of sense, however, and range from silly to outright ridiculous.  It’s worth debunking them all.

Did Mason Rudolph start the fight?  If so, wasn’t Myles Garrett acting in self-defense?

Many have been making this argument, with Cleveland’s WKYC news publishing a fan’s stocking arrangement in a local retail store spelling out “MASON R STARTED IT.” 

Maybe you could argue that it all began with a misunderstanding.  Maybe Garrett didn’t see Rudolph release the ball on the screen pass, and that he was looking to sack the quarterback rather than roughly tackle him in a late, meaningless hit.  And maybe you could make the argument that an angry Mason Rudolph, as part of that misunderstanding, wrongfully escalated the fight by grabbing at Garrett’s facemask in the fray. 

But the key point is that none of that matters.  This excuse simply misses the point.  No one is suggesting that Myles Garrett had no right to defend himself in the tussle, or suggesting that Rudolph had no role in escalating the fight.  The only thing that matters, and the only reason that anyone ever focused on it, is that Garrett pulled off Rudolph’s helmet, an object which exists solely to protect Rudolph’s head, and then viciously struck his unprotected head with that object in a manner that could have potentially maimed or killed him.

What if Rudolph called Garrett the n-word?   

Myles Garrett has reportedly accused Mason Rudolph of hurling a racial slur at him, which caused the overreaction.  The Steelers’ camp has vehemently denied any such slur being hurled.

This is definitely a “he said, she said” sort of scenario that we may never know the truth about.  But this is another excuse that entirely misses the point.  What was said by Rudolph cannot justify Garrett’s vicious and potentially deadly physical reaction. 

To illustrate, imagine the scenario in a different venue.  Imagine Rudolph and Garrett are in a weight room together, and they get into an altercation for whatever reason.  Imagine that Rudolph indeed calls Garrett the n-word, and Garrett proceeds to pick up a five-pound weight (roughly what an NFL helmet weighs) and uses it to smack Rudolph on the head with all of his strength.  We could all agree that what Rudolph said, in that hypothetical scenario, was detestable.  And we should also be able to agree that what Garrett did in response was both illegal and life-threatening.  The distinction between the two actions, and the punishments warranted by either, is a wide chasm.

A Texans player swung a helmet at Richie Incognito in 2013, and only got a three-game suspension…

This is, by far, the best defense being made by Garrett and his supporters, and it’s still pretty weak.  You can watch this video of the Texans’ Antonio Smith swinging the Dolphins’ lineman Richie Incognito’s helmet at his exposed head, the latter of whom was well-known as a dirty player and a trash-talker.  During the course of the play, Smith grabbed the helmet from Incognito’s head, and within the same moment, swung the helmet upward as they were tied in, grazing Incognito’s exposed head.

It was certainly a wrong and dangerous thing for Smith to do, but this was undoubtedly different than Garrett having walked several yards away, only to later wind up and rain down a heavy blow on top of another player’s exposed skull with a helmet.  You can watch the two incidents over and over, and it would be impossible to not conclude that Garrett was far more guilty of a calculated intent.

And even that misses the point, as far as the NFL is concerned.  Garrett’s camp is leaning on precedent, suggesting that because someone else got away with a mild punishment for swinging a helmet at another player’s head, Garrett was just acting in a manner that the NFL has not punished so severely in the past. 

Okay.  So, the only logical conclusion, given all of that, is that perhaps the NFL should have come down more severely on Antonio Smith in 2013, and if they had, perhaps players would be less likely to do something like that again, knowing that the severest punishment the League can hand down would follow.  If anything, this excuse serves as evidence as to why the NFL should respond to the Myles Garrett incident by setting a new precedent – that such actions will not be tolerated, and will be punished in the harshest terms possible.

Myles Garrett is not that guy.  He’s just a victim of “cancel culture.”

This one is, by far, the most aggravating of all the excuses.  On Sunday’s broadcast on Fox, the panel took to wholeheartedly defending Myles Garrett.  “I don’t know what all the fuss is about,” said Terry Bradshaw.  “This is what we call a brain fart,” said Howie Long.  “He had a bad moment.”

But more ridiculous than all of that was Michael Strahan’s assessment that Myles Garrett is just being vilified by our terrible “cancel culture.”  Strahan admits that he once swung a helmet at another player’s head, in practice, as if to normalize an act which is unlike anything that most sports fans have ever seen in a professional NFL game. 

“I felt terrible [after], but that does not define me,” he said, continuing, “but we’re in a culture called the “cancel culture.”  It’s the internet.  Something happens, ‘cancel him, get him out of here, let him go, he should never play again.’ It’s the most ridiculous thing.”

He’s right that “cancel culture” is ridiculous.  But he seems to have absolutely no clue as to what “cancel culture” actually is, if he thinks Myles Garett is a victim of it. 

“Cancel culture” is the modern cultural phenomenon of retroactively applying modern standards of political correctness to the past, with “social justice warriors” digging up examples of a person’s past statements or actions, which would have been largely considered innocuous at the time, in order to condemn that person in the public square today. 

Kevin Hart, for example, was an actual victim of “cancel culture.”  He tweeted a joke that was considered harmless in 2011 about not wanting his son to be gay, so the “woke” outrage mob demanded that he shouldn’t host the Oscars last year.  I wonder, where was Michael Strahan in opposing the lunacy of “cancel culture” to defend Kevin Hart?  Why, only now, has “cancel culture” become a problem?  Because he can wrongfully apply the concept to defend against a harsh punishment for Myles Garrett?

I’d be optimistic if I believed that “ridiculous cancel culture” now has a dedicated opponent in Good Morning America’s Michael Strahan, but I don’t believe that.  This was a comment made in expedience for his immediate purpose, not revelation about the general ridiculousness of “cancel culture.”   

I don’t claim to know the right answer for the NFL.  Maybe suspension for the season is the right answer, though I believe that should be the mildest option.  But I do know that making excuses for Myles Garrett’s actions, and not punishing him convincingly enough to discourage such potentially deadly actions on the professional playing field in the future, is not the right answer.  And if the NFL doesn’t choose wisely as it moves forward, it risks alienating even more fans than it already has in these recent years.

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