On Thursday night, Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett aggressively removed the helmet of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph and struck him over the head with it. It was a difficult, yet can’t miss, moment to watch, where you couldn’t help but look at it from every camera view, at every speed. The National Football League handed down punishments on Friday, with Garrett’s repercussions being the most significant, stating that he would be suspended “at a minimum, for the remainder of the regular season and postseason” and that he must meet with the commissioner’s office prior to a decision on his reinstatement. He was also fined an undisclosed amount.
A majority of the public has taken the side of Rudolph on this situation, saying how, in Rudolph’s own words, it was a “bush league” move by Garrett. Then there are others who argue it was Rudolph who started the fight in the first place, who attempted to remove Garrett’s helmet first and continued the altercation. The video is clear on that, I believe. Rudolph definitely isn’t without fault but that’s not what people will remember. People will remember the dozens of replays during the game of Garrett bashing Rudolph in the skull with his own helmet and the hundreds of thousands of times it was replayed on media outlets and Twitter thereafter.
If Garrett throws a punch, this whole thing isn’t nearly as big of a deal. In fact, Rudolph is probably receiving more criticism for continuing the fight when he should have just walked away. If Garrett tackles Rudolph to the ground, this also isn’t as big of a deal. It’s because Garrett took a helmet and struck Rudolph in the head that makes this such a paramount issue.
For years, the league has been going through massive amounts of scrutiny and litigation over the issue of head trauma and concussion related injuries. This ongoing scrutiny has caused the league to both increase and modify its rule book and place greater emphasis on its medical evaluations, particularly of those evaluations involving the head. So, when the league sees one of its own players taking what is supposed to be a protective piece of equipment and striking another player in the head with it, it’s a blemish on the face of the entire league.
The helmet is such a point of emphasis right now for professional sports. The league has focused millions of dollars into evolving player safety, more specifically, the helmet. It wants the helmet to be seen as a sign of protection, not one of danger, and especially not as a weapon. It is constantly trying to clear its name of anything relating to head injuries by assuring the game is still safe — and to ensure its future by encouraging youth to play football. It therefore looks at Garrett’s action as a complete and utter act of negligence from one of its players, one that damages the entire thought process of the league and its future as a whole.
The league is such an easy target for negligence because everyone associates it with head injuries. It doesn’t matter that a Major League Baseball pitcher can throw a 100 mph fastball at an opposing player after he stared down his home run a couple of innings prior. It doesn’t matter that National Hockey League players will duke it out with their bare fists on the ice. Those leagues aren’t the ones known to cause head trauma. The NFL is known for it and it is the bad guy, the ones deemed responsible for the deaths of those who weren’t properly treated for head injuries. The league therefore had to take action, save face with Garrett’s actions.
The replays are tough to watch, especially considering the brute strength Garrett possesses. Luckily, Garrett didn’t seem to hit Rudolph with the solid part of the helmet, only hitting him with mostly the back bottom edge of it.
This situation doesn’t fall under the “well, he started it” argument. It doesn’t matter. In the end, Garrett’s fine and suspension will be to prove a point, one that will continue to strive toward the emphasis of players’ head safety. If it were to have happened even 10 years ago, it isn’t as grave of an issue. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, it was probably a common theme of sorts but it matters now, in the era where players’ safety will be the verdict, no matter the case.