Class Distinction

Garrett-Rudolph incident is far from cut-and-dry

Before Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett clubbed Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph with a helmet, the NFL was already a league devoid of class.

The brutality of the sport aside, we see how the league treats its former and current players, as well as the important topic of social (in)justice. 

And still, when we slow the moment down, watch it over and over again, there’s a lot that can be said about “class” — and not just from the perspective of what we deem to be “decent.” There’s also the function of class in how we treat (white) quarterbacks versus how we treat other players. There’s the function of class in how forgivable certain political views are versus others. And of course, there’s the function of class in how we allow the flawed NFL to conduct itself as judge, jury and executioner in its dealings.

First, we must deal with the reality of Thursday night’s events. Regardless of whom started the conflict, it was decisively and brutally finished by Garrett, who has been suspended indefinitely by the NFL. That’s the right move by a league that doesn’t always get it right regarding player safety.

The first and most important responsibility of the league is to protect its players. The picture of a quarterback absorbing a hit to the head via helmet flies in the face of those protections. The incident is a case of extreme brutality in a brutal sport — and we must never forget that football is a brutal sport. The collective outrage expressed on behalf of Rudolph should also be expressed when NFL owners propose a 17-game (or more) season. The physical toll that it takes on players may not be as sudden or startling as the attack on Rudolph, but it’s no less devastating.

Or, as ESPN’s Pablo S. Torre put it on Twitter: “Myles Garrett totally failed to respect the difference between consensual and nonconsensual brain damage.” A bar.

Also, we can’t trivialize the fact that the quarterback in question is white. The picture of a Black man “savagely” attacking a white quarterback will certainly conjure race-based reactions. Add the politics of the white quarterback in question, and it’s a recipe for divisive hot takes.

Rudolph’s assessment of Garrett’s helmet swinging as “bush league” and “coward move” hits differently after reports about Rudolph’s politics. The Steelers’ quarterback and his activity on Twitter have led to reports that he supports the ideologies of President Donald Trump and commentator Tomi Lahren, both unrepentantly conservative.

In short, the views of classiness from someone who upholds such classless figures is comical, if not flat-out hypocritical.

Rudolph’s politics aren’t the only thing on trial here, but his privilege. Only a quarterback would have the privilege to confront (and later attempt to kick in the privates) a defensive end without the fear of repercussion. 

That privilege isn’t just a function of race. t’s a function of how we feel about offensive players versus defensive players. We treat injuries and big hits on defensive players as “part of the business.” We treat the same in regards to offensive players (with exception to linemen) as tragedies. The most brutal hit or attack this year wasn’t the helmet hit. The response was understandably visceral, but the hit Marcus Peters endured on an interception and pick-six when he was still a Ram was the most brutal hit of the year. There was little to no outrage over that hit.

That’s not a new phenomenon. We celebrated the likes of former Pittsburgh receiver Hines Ward when he made blindside blocks on defenders. The NFL even implemented the “Hines Ward” rule, but that didn’t stop the Hall of Fame wideout.

That privilege also doesn’t apply to all quarterbacks. Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton seems to be a shell of himself as we speak because of the hits he sustained — some of which went unpunished, such as the hits against the Denver Broncos in the post-Super Bowl rematch to kick off the 2016 season.

All of these concerns fall under the umbrella of a league where “selective outrage” isn’t even its greatest sin. The willful attack against civil rights — which of course, extends to the labor of current and past players — is the league’s greatest failure.

It is a failure that continues to blackball former quarterback Colin Kaepernick, even in the face of a half-hearted offer for a tryout. This is the league that takes a tougher stance on players standing up for civil rights than players who commit domestic abuse. This is the league that pretends to care about player safety, but not only does that ideal not apply to all of its players, but it does little to nothing in terms of benefits for its retirees.

The moral fiber of the league is so frayed that, even in the case of an extreme act such as Garrett’s, it’s just another black eye on a disgraceful league. And it doesn’t take someone with a college degree to understand that.

Class dismissed.

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