The NFL upheld Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett’s indefinite suspension Thursday for ripping Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph’s helmet off and using it to club him over the head.
But the news came hours after ESPN reported a new wrinkle in the case: Garrett told an NFL appeals officer that Rudolph called him a racial slur before the brawl broke out in the Nov. 14 game. Garrett is black and Rudolph is white.
However, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league looked into the accusation and “found no such evidence” to support it.
A Steelers spokesman and Rudolph’s attorney each released statements saying Rudolph denied the allegation, with Rudolph’s attorney calling it “a desperate attempt to mitigate (Garrett’s) suspension.
“This is a lie,” the statement said in part. “This false allegation was never asserted by Garrett in the aftermath of the game, never suggested prior to the hearing, and conspicuously absent in the apology published by the Browns and adopted by Garrett. The malicious use of this wild and unfounded allegation is an assault on Mason’s integrity which is far worse than the physical assault witnessed on Thursday.”
Browns players, including Baker Mayfield and Sheldon Richardson, told reporters Thursday that this was the first they were hearing about an alleged racial slur setting Garrett off. But Browns receiver Odell Beckham Jr. added that “I just don’t see Myles as someone who would lie or do anything like that.”
On the flip side, Steelers teammates came to Rudolph’s defense. Pittsburgh defensive lineman Cam Heyward said Rudolph told him he did not use a slur.
Garrett had a hearing Wednesday with James Thrash, a former Eagles and Redskins receiver who now works for the league as an appeals officer for instances of on-field discipline. According to ESPN, the allegation against Rudolph “created an argumentative exchange between both sides about whether the allegation was permissible.”
But the report also said Thrash “remained stoic” and “took copious notes” about what Garrett was alleging. It’s unknown what the NFL did — or could have done — to investigate whether Rudolph directed a racial slur toward Garrett.
Now Garrett will miss at least the rest of this season, as well as the playoffs if Cleveland were to qualify. He then must meet with Commissioner Roger Goodell’s office before he can be reinstated. At a minimum of six games, it is the longest ban in NFL history for a single incident.
The NFL has not announced any final decisions on punishing Rudolph for his role in the melee, but ESPN reported that Rudolph is expected to be fined $35,096.
The league also reduced Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey’s suspension from three game to two — but that still will keep Pouncey out of the Steelers-Browns rematch in Week 13. Cleveland Browns defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi had his one-game suspension upheld.
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