Ugly Myles Garrett Incident Reminds us of the Violence Football can Never Snuff out

The Browns-Steelers brawl that led to unprecedented penalties is the latest episode the league would like to forget.
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The NFL levied one of its most significant penalties in recent history Friday, banning Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett for the remainder of the 2019 regular season and playoffs, with the condition that he must reapply for reinstatement after the season ends.

The Browns and Steelers were both hit with a quarter-million dollar fine. Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey was suspended three games. Browns defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi was also suspended for one game. The league left open the possibility that more suspensions could be levied upon further review.

We arrived here relatively quickly from Thursday night, when, in the waning seconds of a win over the Steelers, Garrett ripped the helmet off quarterback Mason Rudolph’s head, swung the helmet at Rudolph and connected. Pouncey then kicked and punched Garrett, with the Browns’ defender by that point down on the turf. Ogunjobi blindsided Rudolph.

It’s an ugly day across the board; a hangover still lingering after Garrett conjured images of NFL violence from decades back. This was the type of thing professional football had hoped to sweep under its rug once the league became a cultural stalwart, but which it can never fully get rid of. Every now and then, it’ll have to confront the ghosts of Albert Haynesworth and the still-banished Vontaze Burfict. Expect this shadow to linger over the game for at least a few weekends.

Thursday night changed things in the present. Garrett, known casually by fans as an affable person with diverse off-field interests, will carry this moment for the rest of his career. He’ll lose the trust of some teammates and coaches, though many still seem to have his back. He’ll surrender the benefit of the doubt with any officiating crew or sponsor, lose fan support, you name it. The Browns, now on a two-game winning streak by the way, will now have to combat the idea that this is some kind of window into their souls; that whacking someone over the head with their helmet is somehow the natural progression from wearing different shoes or visors on the sideline when you’re not supposed to.

The hope is that we can ignore all the noise and see Friday’s announcement for what it was—a potential deterrent for future players when on-field violence escalates. There’s a reason that you saw some former NFL players on Twitter and on television talking about this as if they weren’t surprised, or at least that they could understand. Imagine being poked, prodded, pinched, punched, kicked, clubbed, slammed and sat on every play. Fights are natural given the circumstances, with Garrett taking the extremely unfortunate step of allowing those organic frustrations to boil over into something heinous. Even Rudolph, after being pulled to the ground by Garrett in the first place, tried to remove Garrett’s helmet and kicked the defensive end in the groin.

It’s also the kind of event we should be thankful everyone walked away from generally healthy. A few weeks ago, Rudolph was hit so hard in the head by Ravens safety Earl Thomas that he collapsed to the field in a terrifying moment of stillness. Imagine, as many people have over the last 12 hours, the worst-case scenarios both then and last night.

What Friday is not is some type of victory lap for the league. Anyone touting the swiftness of justice delivered by these suspensions is blind to a disciplinary process that still seems so nakedly arbitrary and purposely nebulous. It’s also not a forum for us to impose some grand label on any party involved, even if it will be nearly impossible to disassociate Garrett from his actions.

It is simply ugly. The kind of occasional, inevitable, uncomfortable glimpses of raw emotion, frustration and aggression from which it seems we’ll never be able to completely separate.

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