FOR THE WEEK OF NOV. 25, 2019
NFL helmet-swinging penalty sparks wider discussions about football violence
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Issues of sportsmanship, race and football's risks are involved in the National Football League's punishment of a Cleveland Browns player for pulling off an opponent's helmet and hitting his head with it. Myles Garrett, a defensive end, is suspended indefinitely without pay and fined an undisclosed amount because of Nov. 14 actions against Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph. The discipline was upheld at a NFL hearing last week in New York, which Garrett attended. He "violated unnecessary roughness and unsportsmanlike conduct rules, as well as fighting, removing the helmet of an opponent and using the helmet as a weapon," a league announcement says. The suspension for at least six games is the most severe punishment for a single on-the-field act in NFL history. Rudolph is fined $35,000 for his role in the brawl, his first during a game, and each team is fined $250,000 because players from both sides scuffled.
Garrett, who is black, claims he reacted to a racial slur from Rudolph, who's white, in the game's closing seconds. There’s no evidence of that, the league says after checking with other players. Rudolph's agent says: "The malicious use of this wild and unfounded allegation is an assault on Mason's integrity." Garrett, who must meet with the commissioner's office before a decision on his reinstatement next season, says in a statement: "I know what I heard. Whether my opponent's comment was born out of frustration or ignorance, I cannot say. But his actions do not excuse my lack of restraint in the moment." (Cleveland won 21-7, by the way.)
Ongoing discussions of the topic also touch on the sport's sanctioned brutality, versus the prohibited kind that keeps Garrett off the field for now. "Violence that is accepted on a football field can be just as damaging. Garrett's actions are going to get a ton of negative attention, but it also brings the conversation about violence in football to the forefront," a student editor writes in The Colgate Maroon-News, a college newspaper in Hamilton, N.Y. At The Undefeated, a national sports blog, University of Michigan doctoral student Kelly E. Wright posts: "In this same game, a player left the field from a concussion with his ears bleeding. What is it about this unsanctioned violence that has everyone riled up?" Reactions on social media and elsewhere, she suggests, show "something about how we've linked blackness and violence."
Myles Garrett says: "I truly regret the impact this has had on the league, the Browns and our devoted fans."
Teammate says: "It's almost like [the NFL is] deliberately trying to mess with Cleveland." – Jarvis Landry, Browns receiver
Browns executive says: "He was open and honest with us about the incident from the start. He has taken accountability for his actions on Thursday night and this situation will not define him." – John Dorsey, general manager
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