Friday, November 15, 2019

NFL Responds Quickly to Myles Garrett's Criminal Foolishness

"Is he on steroids or is he mentally ill?"

That was my first thought after I saw Myles Garrett rip off Mason Rudolph's helmet and then hit Rudolph upside the head with that helmet near the end of Cleveland's 21-7 win over Pittsburgh on Thursday Night Football. The two previous helmet-wielding offenders who immediately came to my mind fit into at least one, if not both, of those categories: Lyle Alzado (who later admitted being a steroid user) and Kyle Turley (who was subsequently diagnosed with CTE, a brain injury that either caused or exacerbated mental health issues including rage, depression and suicidal thoughts).

In a 1982 playoff game between the Oakland Raiders and the New York Jets, then-Raider Lyle Alzado ripped off Chris Ward's helmet and threw it at Ward. The helmet did not strike Ward. At the time, there was not a specific rule against what Alzado did, so Alzado was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct. Subsequently, the NFL enacted Article 17--informally known as the "Alzado rule"--stipulating, "A player may not use a helmet that is no longer worn by anyone as a weapon to strike, swing at, or throw at an opponent." The penalty for this offense is 15 yards and automatic disqualification, and an automatic first down if a defender commits the penalty.

In a 2001 regular season game between the New Orleans Saints and the New York Jets, then-Saint Turley ripped off Damien Robinson's helmet and threw it across the field (but not at any particular person). Robinson had committed a facemask penalty against Saints' quarterback Aaron Brooks, bending Brooks' body awkwardly in the process. Turley and Robinson received offsetting personal fouls, but Turley was ejected for the helmet toss. Saints' Coach Jim Haslett contemplated cutting Turley immediately, but after seeing what Robinson did to Brooks--who initially thought he had suffered a broken neck--the Saints instead fined Turley $25,000 and recommended that he seek anger management counseling.

Garrett, his Cleveland teammate Larry Ogunjobi, and Maurkice Pouncey of the Steelers were each ejected from yesterday's game; Ogunjobi pushed Rudolph from behind during the scuffle, while Pouncey threw punches at Garrett and then kicked Garrett while Garrett was on the ground. The NFL announced today that Garrett is suspended indefinitely without pay, meaning he will miss at least six regular season games plus the playoffs if the Browns qualify, and he will have to apply for reinstatement before he is permitted to play again. Garrett was also fined an undisclosed amount. Pouncey was fined and suspended for three games without pay and Ogunjobi was fined and suspended for one game without pay. The Browns and Steelers were each fined $250,000. It is possible that the league will issue additional fines and/or suspensions upon further review of the entire incident, including the actions of players from both teams who left their respective bench areas to join the fracas.

After the game, Cleveland Coach Freddie Kitchens insisted that he does not condone fighting or any actions that would result in penalties, but the reality is that the Browns are the most penalized team in the league. They have signed numerous players who are clowns and/or criminals, so it should surprise no one that the Browns often act like clowns and criminals. The Garrett incident on Thursday is just the dramatic low point in a season packed with Browns players committing stupid and/or dangerous penalties, and engaging in various forms of conduct on and off the field that reflect a lack of discipline. As the saying goes, "You are either coaching it, or you are allowing it to happen."

If Kitchens does not condone undisciplined football, then it is his job to cut, bench or coach up players who are not disciplined. Undisciplined players and teams rarely win anything of consequence.

It must be noted that the Steelers are hardly blameless, though their role in the fracas is overshadowed by Garrett's over the top foolishness; the situation began with Rudolph trying to take off Garrett's helmet, and according to some accounts, kicking Garrett in the groin. It should also be noted that after Garrett and Rudolph were separated it was Rudolph--sans helmet--who charged at Garrett before Garrett hit him. Rudolph should absolutely be fined, if not suspended for one game. Pouncey was almost as out of control as Garrett, but this is Pouncey's first offense (at least to my knowledge), and he was taking on a player his size who had just assaulted his quarterback. Pouncey earned every bit of his suspension and fine, but he is not in the same category as a serial offender like Garrett who committed an act that could have caused serious injury.

The bottom line is that nothing that happened excuses what Garrett did, which could have resulted in serious injury if he had hit Rudolph from a different angle. The difference is that what Rudolph did is essentially commit a personal foul as a play was concluding, and Pouncey retaliated after seeing his quarterback get hit upside his bare head with his own helmet, while Garrett committed the most dangerous and flagrant offense of anyone involved in the melee--and Garrett did not just fling the helmet impulsively, like Turley had done; Garrett clearly aimed directly for Rudolph's head.

This is also not Garrett's first offense. He has had multiple late hits/dirty hits, including one that caused a season-ending injury to Jets' quarterback Trevor Simien and resulted in a fine from the league. The Browns are unlikely to cut ties with Garrett; he has rare physical talent, and the Browns will be leery of getting rid of him only to then see him possibly blossom somewhere else. However, this is where the league must step in--thinking about Garrett's mental health, and the physical health of opposing players--and must not permit Garrett to take the field again until there is a definitive answer to the question posed at the beginning of this article. To do otherwise makes a mockery of the league's purported emphasis on player health and player safety.

Myles Garrett needs help--and the players who play against him need protection.

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