Myles Garrett should face far worse than a six-game suspension. Instead he’s the latest to receive star treatment from the NFL.
With eight seconds left in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 21-7 win over the Cleveland Browns last week, Cleveland’s Myles Garrett tackled backup Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph after the play. They kept at it as they got up and a slew of pushing and shoving ensued – typical behavior between fierce division rivals.
What happened next sent shockwaves through the league.
Garrett ripped Rudolph’s helmet off in the scrum and then swung it down viciously onto the quarterback’s head after the play. Rudolph, who had just recovered from a concussion, lay curled in a ball on the turf as a massive brawl ensued.
The NFL, which has a well-documented issue with inconsistent punishments, suspended Garrett for at least the rest of this season, pending appeals and further review. Other players were also suspended for their roles in the fight and both teams were assessed hefty fines. As it stands, Garrett can be reinstated for the 2020 season after meeting with NFL officials.
Limiting the impact of Garrett’s actions to the playing field, however, is shortsighted. More than 15 million people watched the primetime Thursday Night Football matchup, according to Sports Media Watch. That means millions of kids, many of whom strive to be just like the guys on their TVs, watched their role model beat another man over the head with his own helmet. If Garrett did this on the street, he’d be convicted of aggravated assault, as one could argue the helmet could be considered a weapon.
Garrett’s on-field assault presents yet another character headache for the NFL, which has a history of letting this kind of thing slide. See how it dealt with Tyreek Hill, Richie Incognito and Kareem Hunt’s incidents off the field and Ndamukong Suh – with eight fines and a suspension, all for violent conduct to his name – on the field.
All of those men, while elite players, committed inexcusable actions including assaulting women, making racist threats to teammates and stomping on defenseless opponents. Meanwhile, Colin Kaepernick – a lesser, but still NFL-level, talent guilty of kneeling for the national anthem – has been excommunicated from the league for three years, inciting a collusion lawsuit against the league’s owners.
By turning a blind eye to all but the most egregious of offenses by its top-end talent, the NFL sets a dangerous precedent that if you’re really good, your character doesn’t matter. That implicit message trickles down to the sport’s viewers both young and old.
Picture a high school football player losing to his crosstown rival. His opposite number has been better than him all day and just talked trash after a play. Maybe our teenage athlete gets angry and thinks about going after this guy. It can be hard to determine right from wrong in the heat of the moment and football is a violent game. The thought of starting a fight crosses his mind.
If Myles Garrett did it and all the NFL did was suspend him for a few games, why shouldn’t he?
Kyle Beck can be reached at email@example.com. Find him on Twitter @notkylebeck.