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Myles Garrett’s suspension upheld after he accused Mason Rudolph of using racial slur

Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett hits Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph during last Thursday's game. (Ken Blaze/USA Today)

Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett alleged during his appeal hearing Wednesday that Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph directed a racial slur at him before the incident during last week’s game in which Garrett struck Rudolph in the head with Rudolph’s helmet, two people familiar with the situation said.

Garrett’s indefinite suspension by the NFL was upheld Thursday by appeals officer James Thrash. According to one of the people familiar with the accusation made during Wednesday’s hearing, Garrett’s side raised it in an unusual way, referencing the alleged racial slur but saying there was no request being made for it to be considered in Garrett’s defense.

“I know what I heard,” Garrett said in a written statement posted Thursday evening on Twitter. “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.”

Rudolph denied the accusation through his agent, Timothy Younger, and the Steelers.

“This is a lie,” Younger said in a written statement posted on social media. “This false allegation was never asserted by Garrett in the aftermath of the game, never suggested prior to the hearing, and conspicuously absent in the apology published by the Browns and adopted by Garrett. The malicious use of this wild and unfounded allegation is an assault on Mason’s integrity which is far worse than the physical assault witnessed on Thursday. This is reckless and shameful.”

Younger called it “a desperate attempt [by Garrett] to mitigate his suspension.” Rudolph issued a similar denial through the Steelers.

The league said it found no evidence to support Garrett’s allegation.

“We looked into it and found no such evidence,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said.

Garrett said the allegations made during the hearing were not meant to become public.

“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 wrote. “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.”

The NFL Players Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Steelers defensive lineman Cam Heyward told reporters Thursday in Pittsburgh that “it’s just not right” for Garrett to have made the allegation about Rudolph.

“To use that as your appeal and think that’s okay — one action doesn’t deserve another,” Heyward said. “I know Mason didn’t say it. Mason came to me and told me he did not say it.”

Garrett had not made the accusation about Rudolph previously in comments he made after the game or in a written statement released subsequently through the Browns.

“I just don’t see Myles as someone who would lie or do anything like that,” Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. told reporters Thursday in Cleveland.

Garrett’s allegation was first reported by ESPN.

Garrett’s appeal was heard Wednesday in New York by Thrash. The former NFL wide receiver is one of two appeals officers for on-field discipline jointly appointed by the league and the NFLPA.

Thrash also upheld the NFL’s $45,623 fine of Garrett.

The league said that Garrett’s suspension will cover at least the remainder of this regular season and the postseason. According to the NFL, Garrett will have to meet with Commissioner Roger Goodell or another representative of the league office before being reinstated.

The melee occurred in the final seconds of the Browns’ victory Nov. 14 in Cleveland over the Steelers. Garrett hit Rudolph after Rudolph delivered a throw. As the two players wrestled on the ground, Rudolph grabbed at Garrett’s helmet and appeared to attempt to pull it off Garrett’s head. Garrett succeeded in pulling Rudolph’s helmet from the quarterback’s head and, after both players got to their feet, swung the helmet and struck Rudolph in the head with it.

The Steelers’ Maurkice Pouncey and the Browns’ Larry Ogunjobi also were suspended for their roles in the fracas. Pouncey’s suspension was reduced from three to two games by appeals officer Derrick Brooks, the NFL said Thursday. Pouncey’s fine of $35,096 was upheld. Ogunjobi’s one-game suspension previously was upheld.

The suspensions are without pay, costing Garrett about $1.14 million of his $3.23 million salary for this season in addition to his fine. Garett’s suspension, at a minimum of six games, is the second-longest in league history for an on-field incident. Oakland Raiders linebacker Vontaze Burfict was suspended for the final 12 games of this season for an illegal hit, based on his repeat-offender status.

It already was expected that Rudolph and other players would be fined by the league for their roles in the brawl.

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