Myles Garrett made huge headlines last week when he hit Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback, Mason Rudolf, with his own helmet during a fight at the end of the Thursday Night Football game.
The player’s suspension appeals to the NFL have finished and ESPN’s Adam Schefter released the full list of 33 discpilinary actions here.
However, what ensued immediatley following the fight has been nothing short of a lesson in journalistic integrity and the importance of waiting before assuming a motive.
ESPN’s Josina Anderson posted a tweet referencing a personal theory that Rudolf must have initiated the fight by calling him some kind of egregious name (such as a racial slur).
However, she said this with absolutely zero evidence. It was merely her speculation. And that’s the problem.
In the news business, everyone tries to be first with the story. Everybody wants to have the first “hot take”. And everybody wants to be the person who points a finger toward anything remotely racist.
None of this is bad, until a member of the media neglects to exercise journalistic integrity or check their sources before putting something in print.
In fact, that is precisely how many libel lawsuits begin.
In this case, Anderson insinuated that Rudolf used racially charged language towards Garrett, which has still never been proven.
Although Garrett said in his recent suspension appeal that Rudolf called him a “racial slur”, the NFL “found no such evidence”.
After much backlash from people saying that Garrett was simply looking for a cop-out card for his indefinite suspension, he shared disappointment that his comments in the “closed hearing” were leaked.
“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,” he said. “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.
“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.”
Rudolf’s response (via Steelers spokesman Burt Lauten) to Garrett’s accusations was definitive.
“Mason vehemently denies the report of being accused of using a racial slur during the incident Thursday night in Cleveland. He will not discuss this accusation any further and his focus remains on preparation for Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals.”
This reinforces another lesson that was evident during this entire situation. There is nothing worse in today’s culture than being called “racist”.
Which is good. Racism. Is. Disgusting.
However, much of the media is far too quick to throw a “racist” label on anything and anyone.
Just look at Anderson. She was forced to delete her tweet and issued an ensuing apology for it all because she was too quick to throw a label on someone without knowing whether or not it was true.
Right or wrong, she put herself in a terrible situation by being too free with the suggestion that someone may be a “racist”, adding unnecessary fuel to a flaming dumpster fire.
And now both Garrett and Rudolph are forever going to both be scarred, for reasons other than the fight on the field. They are stuck in a he said-he said situation.
If Rudolph really did call Garrett a racial slur, then Rudolph has every reason to receive public shame. However, if Garrett is lying about that accusation, then there is nothing more damaging to Rudolph’s career, and Garrett should receive just as much public backlash.