The NFL found no evidence of Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph using a racial slur before his brawl with Browns defensive end Myles Garrett in last Thursday's game, league spokesperson Brian McCarthy said.
During his appeal hearing with the NFL on Wednesday, Garrett accused Rudolph of using the racial slur, according to ESPN's Josina Anderson and Adam Schefter. The accusation "created an argumentative exchange between both sides about whether the allegation was permissible," reports ESPN.
Appeals officer James Thrash reportedly took notes during the time Garrett made the allegation.
"I was assured that the hearing was space that afforded the opportunity to speak openly and honestly about the incident that led to my suspension. This was not meant for public dissemination, nor was it a convenient attempt to justify my actions or restore my image in the eyes of those I disappointed." Garrett said in a statement Thursday evening. "I know what I heard. Whether my opponent's comment was born out of frustration or ignorance, I cannot say. But his actions do not excuse my lack of restraint in the moment, and I truly regret the impact this has had on the league, the Browns and our devoted fans."
When Thrash asked him how he could act differently in the future, Garrett reportedly said he would not let situations get out of hand again. ESPN reported he cited Antonio Smith's 2013 suspension as a possible model for his discipline from the league for his role in the fracas.
Both the Steelers and Rudolph's attorney, Tim Younger, released statements on Thursday to deny the allegations against the quarterback.
"Mason vehemently denies the report of being accused of using a racial slur during the incident Thursday night in Cleveland," Steelers spokesman Burt Lauten said in a statement to ESPN. "He will not discuss this accusation any further and his focus remains on preparation for Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals."
Younger called the allegation "wild and unfound" in a statement on Twitter.
"According to ESPN, in his appeal, Myles Garrett falsely asserted that Mason Rudolph uttered a racial slur toward him, prior to swinging a helmet at Mason’s uncovered head, in a desperate attempt to mitigate his suspension. This is a lie," Younger said. "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 unfound allegation is an assault on Mason’s integrity which is far worse than the physical assault witnessed on Thursday. This is reckless and shameful. We will have no further comment."
After practice on Thursday, Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward defended Rudolph, who would not talk to reporters and continued to stand by the team's statement.
Heyward said the team learned about Garrett's allegation against Rudolph on Thursday and the quarterback told him, "I did not say that."
Rudolph has not been punished for his role in the incident but is reportedly expected to be fined by the league. He addressed the media on Wednesday and said there was no acceptable excuse for his role in the tussle that led to Garrett's suspension.
The NFL suspended Garrett indefinitely after he ripped Rudolph's helmet off and struck him in the head with it in the final seconds of last week's Thursday Night Football game. Browns defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi was given a one-game ban for pushing Rudolph, and Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey received a three-game suspension for kicking and punching Garrett.
Thrash upheld Ogunjobi's suspension on Wednesday. The league announced on Thursday that it would uphold Garrett's indefinite suspension and reduce Pouncey's from three games to two.