Although the rules of the game today have taken a great deal of the aggression off the field, football remains a violent sport. The guys in the trenches, the gladiator, are bigger and stronger than those playing the skilled positions.
Inevitably, there are disagreements between the gladiators and the smaller offensive players. When they clash, the “root for the underdog” American ethos kicks in and comes to the aid of the skilled player over the so-called “brut.”
The immediate outcry is that the colossal football player deserves condemnation. It is easy to come to this conclusion. The actions of the bigger guy seem out of proportion to the acts of the smaller participate by the sheen energy; the larger combatant brings to the contest.
Thursday night’s National Football League clash between the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers ended with a brawl on the field. The altercation occurred when Myles Garrett, a prodigious defensive player for the Pittsburgh Steelers, rushed the Cleveland Quarterback, Mason Randolph, wrapping his massive arms around Randolph’s body and violently slamming Randolph to the ground. In all respects, Garrett’s action on this play was a legitimate football move, a legal hit.
Randolph took exception to Garrett’s jarring tackle. He quickly retaliated kicking Garrett in the groin, then while the two footballers laid on the turf Randolph, the smaller of the two men reached for Garrett’s helmet. Randolph had Garrett in a headlock and was pulling Garrett’s headgear off his head. Garrett fought back, resisting Randolph’s efforts to remove the protective headgear off where Randolph presumably could plummet Garrett in the head.
Garrett stood his ground. He moved his head too and fro, trying to avoid exposing his unprotected face to Garrett’s rage. Eventually, Garrett overpowered the smaller Randolph, getting to his feet, Garrett reached for Randolph’s helmet, then yanked it off of Randolph’s head.
At this point, Garrett does not strike Randolph. He is content to back away from Randolph and parade around with the spoils of war. Randolph comes after Garrett yelling all the while, at which point Garrett smashed Randolph on the head with his headgear.
It is this smash which has set off a social media storm asking if not for Garrett’s head on a platter, at least his suspension for the remainder of the season.
Perhaps Garrett should be suspended for the remainder of the season, but if he is Randolph should too, and Randolph should have a couple of games into the next season to discourage other players from attempting to yank the protective head mask off of an opposing player’s head.
Randolph must own the fact that had he not attempted to bully an opponent by trying to remove Garrett’s head protection, he would not have been struck in the head by Garrett. The commissioner must keep this salient fact in mind when considering the appropriate punishment for Garrett.
It is time to rethink the proposition that the guy who metes out the most punishment in an altercation, no matter the circumstances, should suffer the brunt of the discipline. There is no way to stop these types of situations from occurring on the football field or in society if equal justice does not apply to both combatants.
Harold Michael Harvey is the author of Freaknik Lawyer: A Memoir on the Craft of Resistance. He is a Past President of the Gate City Bar Association. He is the recipient of Gate City’s R. E. Thomas Civil Rights Award, which he received for his pro bono representation of Black college students arrested during Freaknik celebrations in the mid to late 1990s. An avid public speaker, contact him at email@example.com.