“Success isn’t always about greatness,” reads the caption of NFL defensive end Myles Garrett’s Instagram post. “It’s about consistency. Consistent hard work leads to success. Greatness will come.”
Garrett, a top-ranked defensive end for the Cleveland Browns, has a variety of inspirational posts like these on his social media feed. Thought-provoking captions, videos to raise awareness for various charities, and even snapshots of Garrett’s own poetry define his identity beyond the all-brawn-no-brain stereotype of an NFL player. The public persona that Garrett presents is that of a compassionate intellectual — a dramatic deviation from the widely-held belief that NFL players are brutish and self-absorbed.
It was with great surprise then, that viewers of November 14th’s Browns vs. Steelers game watched as Garrett ripped the helmet off of Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph and proceeded to swing it like a club, forcefully striking the young quarterback’s head. Garrett was ejected from the game immediately following the incident and was initially suspended indefinitely without pay for the rest of the year at a minimum.
The official statement from the NFL issued the following day ruled Garrett’s behavior as an act of “unnecessary roughness and unsportsmanlike conduct…as well as fighting.” This is not the first time this season that Garrett has gotten into trouble. He also received fines for an altercation involving Titans player Delanie Walker and “for two roughing the passer penalties” against the Jets.
This aggressive behavior is a far cry from the thoughtful, mild-mannered man who once said that he preferred being called “Flash” over “Superman” because “(the Flash) isn’t invulnerable” and “has so much pressure on him to keep up.” The hyper-competitive, violent nature of football certainly played a role in Garrett’s behavior. Contact sports and football, in particular, have been likened to “war minus the shooting.” After all, contact sports sanction acts of physical aggression, such as tackling, making it easy for one to become overwhelmed and lash out.
Furthermore, following the incident, Garrett alleged that Rudolph “called him a racial slur.” He also released a statement via Twitter reasserting that Rudolph called him “the N-word” but also stated that this information “was not meant for public dissemination” and that it “(did) not excuse (his) lack of restraint.” If Garrett’s claim is true, the severe dichotomy between his persona outside the game and the aggressive behavior he displayed on the field becomes much less of a mystery.
The likelihood that Garrett is telling the truth, however, is decreasing by the day. Right after Garrett’s accusation was made public, Rudolph defended himself, saying that the accusation was “totally untrue.” In response to the allegation, the NFL conducted an investigation that found “no such evidence” of the fact. More notably, Garrett did not make any mention of this accusation during the post-game press conference. Only six days later, during a conference that had a direct impact on how long his suspension would last, did Garrett come forward.
By all means, if Garrett’s allegation proves true, then Rudolph should face sufficient punishment for using an offensive slur, but there continues to be an absence of conclusive evidence. To this day, there has not been a single person apart from Garrett to confirm this allegation — not even his own teammates.
Sheldon Richardson, one of Garrett’s friends and fellow player for the Browns, said in an interview that he “didn’t know nothing about (Rudolph using the slur)” but that he “wouldn’t doubt that he did (use it).” Richardson was not the only player to support Garrett on blind faith. Over the course of the same interview, Odell Beckham Jr., Joel Bitonio, and Damarious Randall all gave similar responses to Richardson’s. Admittedly, proving the existence of one comment uttered during a football game packed with a massive audience is a nearly impossible task, but blind faith in Garrett’s character is not enough to excuse his behavior, nor is it sufficient evidence to condemn Rudolph.
In fact, the damage this incident has done to Rudolph himself is not insignificant. Not only was he the target of Garrett’s angry helmet-swinging, but the threat that Garrett’s allegation poses to Rudolph’s future is incalculable. Being associated with this controversy has already hurt Rudolph in the form of a $50,000 fine, but if the public sides with Garrett, Rudolph could face a staggering loss in the form of lost opportunities for endorsement. He, like Garrett, has a lot of work to do to rebuild his brand and reputation.
On February 5th, Garrett was officially reinstated to the Browns. He “continues to stick his story” regarding the alleged racial slur but has also gone to great lengths to apologize for the helmet incident. In his apology, Garrett accepts responsibility for his actions, touching on the true heart of the entire controversy: regardless of what Rudolph did or did not say, Garrett’s actions remain reprehensible. Taking accountability is a crucial step in the right direction for Garrett, and hopefully, he takes his reinstatement as an opportunity to make headlines for his accomplishments rather than for any violent altercations.
“Make the most of what you have and strive to be better in every aspect of your life. Good or bad, it all shall pass,” reads one of Garrett’s recent tweets. Even now, the significance of Garrett’s public persona is undeniable; in addition to serving as an example of athleticism, Garrett also serves as an example of humility, discipline, and compassion — all of which amplify his ability to influence others positively. With any luck, Garrett will step out of the shadows of this controversy and restore his reputation as one of the NFL’s most talented and nuanced players.