The NFL “found no such evidence” that Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph directed a racial slur at Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett just prior to last week’s brawl, league spokesman Brian McCarthy said Thursday.
Garrett made the allegation during an appeal hearing with the NFL on Wednesday, sources told ESPN’s Josina Anderson and Adam Schefter.
The star defensive end issued a statement later Thursday, saying he stood by his claim and expressing disappointment it 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.”
Earlier Tuesday, the Steelers said Rudolph denied the accusation.
“Mason vehemently denies the report of being accused of using a racial slur during the incident Thursday night in Cleveland,” Steelers spokesman Burt Lauten said in a statement. “He will not discuss this accusation any further and his focus remains on preparation for Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals.”
On Wednesday, Rudolph told reporters he didn’t say anything to provoke Garrett or escalate the situation.
Contacted after the allegations were reported, Rudolph’s attorney, Timothy M. Younger, said: “According to ESPN, in his appeal, Myles Garrett falsely asserted that Mason Rudolph uttered a racial slur toward him, prior to swinging a helmet at Mason’s uncovered head, in a desperate attempt to mitigate his suspension. This is a lie. 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. We will have no further comment.”
Garrett made the allegation as part of his initial comments during the appeal hearing in New York, sources said. It created an argumentative exchange about whether the allegation was permissible to be used in the appeal at that time.
When the allegation was made, appeals officer James Thrash remained stoic and took copious notes, sources said. He did ask Garrett a question about how he might act differently in the future, and Garrett conveyed he would not let events escalate like that again.
Garrett’s indefinite suspension was upheld on Thursday, the NFL announced.
“As we’ve consistently stated, our organizational support for Myles will continue,” Cleveland general manager John Dorsey said in a statement. “He is a man of high character and unquestionable integrity. He was open and honest with us about the incident from the start. He has taken accountability for his actions on Thursday night and this situation will not define him.”
Browns coach Freddie Kitchens agreed.
“I have the same sentiments,” he said on his coaches show. “I don’t question Myles’ character at all. The type of person he is. He’s never wavered with his character. I’ll always support Myles Garrett without wavering one bit, just like the organization.”
Garrett was suspended for ripping off and swinging Rudolph’s helmet, hitting the quarterback in the head with it, with seconds remaining in last Thursday’s game. In announcing Garrett’s suspension Friday, the NFL also said Garrett would have to meet with the commissioner’s office before being reinstated.
Rudolph initially tussled with Garrett on the ground and then charged at him after Garrett forcibly removed the helmet. Rudolph hasn’t been punished, but a source told ESPN that a fine is expected. The quarterback said he would comply with whatever discipline the league hands out.
Sources told ESPN that Garrett informed some in the Browns organization that he was going to assert some sensitive information as part of his appeal.
Kitchens on Thursday declined to address his discussions with Garrett about the incident.
“What Myles and I talk about stays between Myles and I,” Kitchens said. “I’m sure Myles presented himself professionally, like he’s done ever since the moment it happened [and] afterward. He’s been nothing but professional in his responses.”
A number of Browns players said Thursday that they hadn’t heard about Garrett’s accusation. Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. said he believed his teammate.
“I just don’t see Myles as someone who would lie or do anything like that,” Beckham said. “At this point, it is what it is. We’re all just kind of waiting and just hoping that justice is served.”
A source told ESPN’s Dan Graziano that Garrett also used a precedent-based argument during the appeal hearing, citing the NFL’s punishment of former Houston Texans defensive end Antonio Smith, who was suspended in 2013 for two preseason games and one regular-season game for swinging his helmet at then-Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Richie Incognito.
Garrett and the NFL Players Association also argued that an indefinite suspension is not permitted under the league’s collective bargaining agreement, according to the source.
Two other players were suspended from the brawl. Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey received a three-game suspension for punching and kicking Garrett, and Browns defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi received a one-game suspension for shoving Rudolph in the back.
Ogunjobi’s ban was upheld by Thrash on Wednesday.
ESPN’s Jake Trotter contributed to this report.