Pro football is one of the most violent sports on Earth, one that often is defined by brutal hits and the astonishing determination by its participants to overcome the sheer force of collisions that occur on every single play.
But there never has been anything quite like what we saw late Thursday night when Browns defensive end Myles Garrett committed one of the most grievous acts in NFL history.
Garrett is one of the most physically gifted players ever to put on a uniform, but his cowardly move to rip off Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph’s helmet, wind up and strike Rudolph over the head with it places him at or near the top of the list of cheap-shot artists.
Despicable. Heinous. Choose your negative connotation to describe the moment. They all apply.
Garrett is lucky that no serious harm was done to Rudolph, who suffered a concussion in Week 5 against the Ravens and cleared the concussion protocol on Oct. 16. The situation could have been much worse had the blow caused an injury. Given Garrett’s strength and the fact that Rudolph was left without protection on his head, we might have been having a different conversation.
Fortunately, Rudolph was able to walk away and provide his thoughts about the incident.
“It was bush league and a total coward move on his part,” Rudolph said after the Browns’ 21-7 win at First Energy Stadium. “It’s OK, I’ll take it. I'm not going to back down from any bully out there.”
Garrett cannot walk away from the fallout of his moment of temper. His reputation is forever tainted, his legacy now frozen in the memory of his outlandish reaction.
Rudolph initially tugged on Garrett’s helmet as the two wrestled on the ground with seconds to play in the game, but Garrett’s response of grabbing Rudolph’s facemask and then ripping his helmet off was an overreaction.
His decision to club Rudolph in the head with the helmet — a potentially deadly weapon – was execrable to a level we’ve never witnessed. Even in a league in which violent collisions within the rules are as common as the forward pass.
“Last night, I made a terrible mistake," Garrett said. “I lost my cool and what I did was selfish and unacceptable. I know that we are all responsible for our actions and I can only prove my true character through my actions moving forward.”
Garrett won’t have the chance to prove his true character in a game for quite a while. He has been suspended indefinitely and won’t be allowed to play until at least next season. And even then, he must appear before commissioner Roger Goodell to gain the opportunity to play another NFL game.
The league got it right by taking Garrett off the field for the rest of this season and taking away his remaining pay, because what he did on Thursday night was unworthy of anyone who puts on a helmet and shoulder pads. It was a shameful moment for which he must be held to account, and Goodell has every reason to keep him away from his league for the foreseeable future.
Garrett will have plenty of time to reflect on his misdeeds now that he’s no longer permitted to play. But nothing he can say or do will completely remove the disgrace he brought upon himself.
For that, he will be held to account the rest of his life.