Garrett helmet swing brings out ‘yes, but’ defenders

By now, assuming that you are at least a little interested in the world of sports, you have seen videotape of the incident. After grappling with Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph, Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett ripped Rudolph’s helmet from his head.

A few seconds later Garrett chose to use the helmet to take a swing at Rudolph’s unprotected noggin. Football fans everywhere, watching the game live, gasped. Everyone seemed to realize that Garrett had gone over the line. His playing time, going forward, would be severely limited.

Within a few hours the debate began. A suspension for Myles Garrett was a given. How long would it be? Would anyone else get suspended? Would there be hefty fines handed out? And perhaps the biggest question of all — who was responsible for instigating this ugly incident?

The NFL acted quickly, suspending Garrett for the remainder of the regular season (6 games) and any playoff games the Browns might play. Maurkice Pouncey, who came to Rudolph’s aid after the helmet swing by punching and kicking Garrett, was suspended for three games. Browns defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi was suspended for one game for pushing Rudolph to the ground from behind, again, after the helmet incident. All three players also were fined. Punishment for Mason Rudolph apparently is still forthcoming.

The answer to the question of “who started it” tended to be one sided, depending on which team you support. Pittsburgh Steeler fans blame Myles Garrett for committing a violent and wholly unacceptable act. They would call it an assault. Cleveland Browns fans, though not condoning Garrett’s actions, were quick to point out that Mason Rudolph may have caused the whole thing.

To the best of my knowledge, here is what took place: Garrett threw Rudolph to the ground after a pass attempt with less than a half minute remaining in the game. Rudolph thought the hit was late and that Garrett was in no hurry to remove himself from atop Rudolph and thus tried to rip Garrett’s helmet off. Garrett took exception to that activity and responded by pulling Rudolph to his feet by his facemask, simultaneously removing Rudolph’s helmet. Mason Rudolph then went after Garrett again and the response was the helmet swing. Pouncey’s and Ogunjobi’s actions then followed before order was restored.

I would think that everyone should agree that the incident was ugly and unacceptable. Only the most avid fans would lay all the blame on one team or player. There are, however, some extenuating circumstances that are worthy of discussion.

Many people I have talked to want to know why the Steelers were throwing the football deep in their own territory down by two touchdowns so late in the game. There were eight seconds left in the game after the incident. Why, some would ask, were Rudolph and Garrett even on the field at that point?

I know coaches like to have their players play hard right up to the last whistle, and this does not justify anyone’s actions. The game, though, essentially was over and why would they risk injury to key players even if something crazy did not take place?

Basketball teams have been known to stop playing with seconds left in a game they cannot win. Football teams could easily do the same.

Myles Garrett was wrong, period. No matter what happens to enrage a person, there are things that you simply cannot do. One such “thing” would be to swing a projectile (in this case a football helmet) at someone’s head.

I don’t know if anyone has condoned Myles Garrett’s actions. However, I have heard a few “yes, but” comments. My experience has been that if someone answers a question with “yes, but” they should probably have stopped with “yes.” When they throw the “but” in there they are usually trying to justify what happened.

In this case one cannot justify the actions of Myles Garrett.

In the days following the incident, the combatants had time to think about what happened. For his part, Garrett accepted responsibility for what he did and was indeed remorseful. Rudolph also said that he did not handle things as well as he should have.

Garrett, Pouncey and Ogunjobi all appealed their punishments this week, which is standard procedure. The NFL let Garrett’s suspension stand. They also let Ogunjobi’s one-game suspension stand, but did rescind his fine. Pouncey had his suspension reduced from three games to two. The NFL is still deciding what punishment Rudolph will receive for his actions.

You can debate whether the punishments are fair. You can debate who should shoulder the most blame. What you can’t debate, in my humble opinion, is the fact that the incident was ugly.

Here’s hoping something like it never happens again.

Al Stephenson is an A-T sports columnist.

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