The NFL recently suspended Myles Garrett of the Cleveland Browns for hitting Mason Rudolph of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the head with Rudolph’s helmet. Garrett’s suspension in the wake of the fight is the longest in league history for an in-game penalty. It made some think of other famous unnecessary roughness penalties. Let’s take a closer look at the NFL’s most severe punishment before Myles Garrett.
A recap of the Myles Garrett-Mason Rudolph skirmish
Late in a Thursday Night Football game where the Cleveland Browns were blowing out the Pittsburgh Steelers, Garrett and Rudolph got into a melee. After landing on Rudolph awkwardly, the two got into a scuffle.
Rudolph attempted to remove Garrett’s helmet unsuccessfully as the two fought. Garrett removed Rudolph’s helmet and then swung it wildly, striking Rudolph in the head. While he did make contact, he didn’t appear to injure Rudolph. Several Steelers’ players rushed to Rudolph’s aid, punching and kicking Garrett on the ground.
Immediately following the game, Garrett was apologetic for the play while Rudolph was incensed. The NFL suspended Garrett indefinitely for the rest of the 2019 regular season and this year’s postseason as well.
A week after the events transpired, Garrett appealed his suspension to the league. During his appeal hearing, he reportedly accused Rudolph of calling him a racial slur, presumably triggering Garrett’s attack. The league presumably didn’t find this claim credible or didn’t see it as an impact on Garrett’s behavior, as his suspension was upheld.
The most severe NFL punishment before Myles Garrett
In a 2006 regular-season game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Tennessee Titans, tempers flared from Titans nose tackle Albert Haynesworth. After a play concluded, Haynesworth lifted his foot and stomped on the exposed, helmet-less head of Cowboys’ offensive lineman Andre Gurode.
Haynesworth’s actions didn’t appear outwardly violent, but the simple act of lifting his foot and bringing it down on the Gurode was shocking in both its simplicity and egregiousness.
The referees flagged Haynesworth for unsportsmanlike conduct and ejected him from the game. Unlike the Rudolph and Garrett conflict, there was no brawl taking place before or after the event. It was simply one player making an ugly and cowardly choice to strike a defenseless player. Haynesworth even drew blood on Gurode.
The NFL came down hard on Haynesworth, suspending him for five games. It was more than twice the length of the previous longest suspension for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
The aftermath of the Haynesworth suspension
Prior to his punishment, Haynesworth apologized for his actions. He didn’t attempt to defend himself because clearly, there was no defense. Here were his exact words following the incident:
“I apologize to Andre,” Haynesworth said. “What I did was disgusting. It’s something that should never happen. I mean, I’m not a dirty player. I don’t play dirty. I have respect for the game. What I feel like is I disgraced the game, disgraced my team and disgraced my last name.”
Gurode’s reaction was less angry and more incredulous. The act was so outrageous, he couldn’t believe it had even happened:
“In all my years of football, this has never happened to me. I’ve never been kicked in the face like this, and I’ve never seen anybody kick nobody else in the face,” Gurode said.
The stomp forced Gurode to miss the second half of the game. It was a shocking incident for the NFL, but in hindsight, it seems like the punishment was way less severe than Garrett’s.
While Garrett’s helmet swing was in the heat of a fight, it doesn’t make his action any better than Haynesworth’s. Both men went after an essentially defenseless combatant. That’s why in both cases, the NFL reacted swiftly and harshly. Time will tell when they allow Garrett to return.