The NFL handed down punishments for the actions of three players involved in the brawl between the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers. Defensive end Myles Garrett received the harshest punishment, getting the rest of the season, if not longer, for swinging a helmet and hitting another player.
Larry Ogunjobi was suspended one game for his actions, shoving a player down and Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey was suspended three games for punching and kicking in the brawl. Those punishments are perfectly reasonable. The lack of action against Mason Rudolph, the one who started everything that would transpire and escalated the situation is troubling and now raises questions about race.
Garrett, Ogunjobi and Pouncey were all suspended, fairly, for their actions. They also happen to be black. Rudolph, the quarterback who grabbed at Garrett's helmet, kicked him in the groin and then charged him while he was being restrained, received no punishment. Whether coincidence or not, he happens to be white.
It's not a question of over-punishing the three African American players here. It's entirely a question of refusing to hold the one player, who started the entire thing, responsible. And in so doing, it's impossible not to notice his race.
None of this happens if Rudolph doesn't go after Garrett. That doesn't mean that Garrett isn't responsible for his part or that Pouncey and Ogunjobi aren't responsible for theirs, but Rudolph lit the match when he started going after Garrett. He lit the fire when he kicked him in the groin. Then he fanned the flames by chasing after him when Garrett was being restrained by David DeCastro. To this point, he's not being held accountable for any of it.
The NFL holds the right to carry out further action, but their initial statement here is appalling. The video is freely available and quite clear. Rudolph is getting a pass for grabbing another player's helmet, kicking them in the groin and then chasing after them. The NFL is reacting to what happened without bother to getting to the root of the issue.
Rudolph deserves to be suspended multiple games; it seemed reasonable that he'd get at least one. The fact he's not missing any games and will get to play next week while the three other players will all be suspended is absurd on its face. A fine, however massive it might be, will not be enough.. The person who started everything will be going to be out there trying to help his team win while these three will be unable to helps theirs. That leaves an indelible image.
Everything about the events at the end of the game are awful. Awful for the players, the league and the sport itself. Allowing the instigator to go unpunished doesn't discourage further action or send the necessary message. The league, as it so often does, takes something that should be straight forward and makes it far worse. Now, it becomes a discussion about race.