OC'S CORNER

O’Connell: Garrett’s Actions Inexcusable But Shouldn’t Be Charged With Assault

Nov 15, 2019, 10:51 PM
Quarterback Mason Rudolph #2 of the Pittsburgh Steelers fights with defensive end Myles Garrett #95...
Quarterback Mason Rudolph #2 of the Pittsburgh Steelers fights with defensive end Myles Garrett #95 of the Cleveland Browns during the second half at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 14, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Browns defeated the Steelers 21-7. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – One single second can change everything in sports. On Thursday night, in the waning moments of an otherwise uninteresting game, we saw something that changed an emerging NFL star’s reputation – and maybe even league rules – forever.

If you haven’t seen the infamous altercation, go watch it. Try to do so before you peruse the Twitter reactions and overreactions if possible. What you’ll see is about seven seconds of really bad decision making. Primarily by three different men.

Bad Decision #1: Myles Garrett – The Browns pass rusher makes contact with Pittsburgh QB Mason Rudolph after the pass is gone and continues to wrap him up and drag him down. Clearly late, clearly roughing the passer.

Bad Decision #2: Mason Rudolph – The Steelers QB is clearly upset by the unnecessary contact and probably by his abysmal performance in a losing effort. As the larger Garrett drags him down, Rudolph appears to attempt some retaliation, pulling at Myles Garrett’s helmet, and kicking his legs to push Myles Garrett off of him.

Bad Decision #3: Myles Garrett – Instead of laughing it off and letting the game end. Browns DE grabs Rudolph’s helmet and tears it off of his head. (at this point, good-guy OL Dave DeCastro steps in to separate the two)

Bad Decision #4: Mason Rudolph – Now lidless and enraged. Rudolph gets to his feet and ducks around his protective OL, rushing to continue his altercation with Myles Garrett.

REALLY Bad Decision #5: Myles Garrett – Still semi-engaged with DeCastro, swings Rudolph’s helmet wildly at the QB’s head (luckily making contact with the padded edge at the back of the helmet rather than the hard shell). Rudolph ducks, minimizing the impact, and throws his arms wide in outrage and protest at the brutal assault.

Bad Decision #6: Steelers OL Maurkice Pouncey jumps in to retaliate. He punches Garrett several times (this is actually probably fine, because Garrett is still wearing his helmet) and kicks the downed pass-rusher a single time on the helmet (who DeCastro has neutralized by tackling him flat to his back). None of the punches actually land with significant force or accuracy, nor does the kick.

That’s it.

That’s the whole thing.

(I guess you can count Larry Ogunjobi of the Browns rushing up and pushing Mason Rudolph down after the fact, but that was rather unremarkable and probably didn’t warrant the suspension that the NFL levied)

A few brief seconds and some boneheaded decisions made in frustration and anger have sparked a veritable firestorm of outrage and debate on sports and social media platforms. More importantly, it has tarnished the legacy of one of the NFL’s brightest young defensive stars almost before he’s even had a chance to start building one. The incident also reignited fears that the NFL might be too violent, and led to speculation about just how seriously the league takes player safety.

To calm some of these fears and quell skepticism, the NFL took swift and decisive action in suspending Myles Garrett indefinitely, suspending Pouncey for three games, and Ogunjobi for one, and fining both the Steelers and the Browns a quarter-of-a-million dollars.

I spent too much time and energy today debating the outraged hordes of Twitter over whether or not Myles Garrett deserves to be prosecuted for attempt to hurt Mason Rudolph. The kneejerk reaction that we all witnessed assault with a deadly weapon on Thursday night, might be by-the-letter true, but that assertion willfully ignores important nuances of this situation. Rudolph’s aggression, and the fact that the altercation happened on a football field, where violent physical contact is normalized and encouraged, and even DeCastro’s intervening position all need to be considered.

Garrett striking Rudolph was an unforgivable escalation, well outside of the rules and acceptable norms of roughness on an NFL football field. It was stupid, negligent, dangerous, irresponsible, and excessive. But it isn’t something that needs to be adjudicated or that needs to prohibit him from moving forward with his NFL career after serving his suspension. He deserves the criticism he is getting. He deserves the suspension and lost income. He probably deserved the few punches that Pouncey gave him. Myles Garrett probably even deserves to have this follow him around and tarnish his legacy and give him the tag of “dirty player” for the foreseeable future. Those are real consequences.

I also fielded a lot of “well if a different part of the helmet hit Rudolph’s head, he might have died!” comments. Again. This might be true. Probably not though. Results matter. This was not excusable behavior, but it’s important to remember that this was not even the most physically damaging thing that happened in the Thursday Night Football game! Nor is it the most violent thing we have seen on a football field.

Utah OG Chris Kemoeatu was once ejected from a game for kicking an opponent in the face, that’s not a football play, it’s technically assault, and is obviously very dangerous. No charges. Just an unfortunate outlier. The Miami Beach Bowl brawl with BYU involved a swinging helmet, lots of punches, bloody lips and noses, and was a proper dustup. There is precedent for blindside sucker punches being fatal. Even punches between mutually-engaged combatants have been fatal. Thankfully, despite the danger, nobody died or received life-altering injuries. So we regarded that as just an ugly brawl, condemned it and moved on. No charges. The same response is appropriate here.

Oddly, Maurkice Pouncey probably came out ahead after what happened. Sure, he loses three game checks, and plenty of folks are tsk-tsking his unsavory behavior, but in NFL circles what he did makes him more desirable. The unwritten code of NFL Offensive Linemen dictates that a QB must be protected from all harm, especially extra-curricular harm. The Steelers will say the right things from a PR standpoint, but I promise you that Pouncey is being praised by his teammates and coaches behind closed doors.

I point this out because it’s important in illustrating my main point. An NFL football field is a strange place. A foreign place. A workplace with rules and codes that we are rarely given full insight into. It is imperative to watch games through that lens. It’s even more important to watch incidents like the one between Myles Garrett and Mason Rudolph with that truth in mind. The NFL will continue to fight their PR battles and try to legislate situations like this out of the game, but we are long way from seeing the end of wildly violent outbursts in an already violent game. This is unfortunate, but it doesn’t change the fact that it is unreasonable to draw false equivalencies between the NFL workplace and your office. Nor is it reasonable to demand that Myles Garrett arrested, jailed, or banned for life (Mason Rudolph agrees. He will not pursue charges or legal action, and considers this a strictly on-field NFL matter)

To be clear, I want to reiterate that Myles Garrett is very wrong in this situation. Mason Rudolph is also, to a lesser extent. (I actually don’t think Pouncey is, but that’s because I have an unhealthy appreciation for the social hierarchy of football locker room and fight culture.) Garrett is being punished most harshly, as he should be. Calling for him to lose his livelihood permanently or serve jail time is an overreaction, plain and simple. Back off of the ledge folks. Plenty of more important things to spend your outrage energy on, even in the NFL.

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