Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva is defending his quarterback as the fallout continues from last week’s brawl at the end of a game against the Cleveland Browns.
The controversy took a turn Thursday when Browns defensive end Myles Garrett claimed he tore off Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph’s helmet and swung it down on his head after Rudolph used a racial slur.
Rudolph has denied the allegation, and his teammates have jumped to his defense.
Villanueva, a U.S. Army veteran, made it clear he believes racial slurs “have no place” in America.
But he said “fabricating” a story about someone using a racial slur is even worse for race relations in this country.
“I think using any kind of racial slurs has no place in our country whatsoever, but I think fabricating a story where somebody used a racial slur is a lot more damaging to our society because it undermines all the efforts that we are collectively trying to be sensitive about using this word and making sure it has no place,” Villanueva told The Athletic.
“If somebody puts their personal benefits, personal interests such as money, fame or whatever it is ahead of the negativity and the damage that the word has created is pretty embarrassing and an unfortunate event,” he said.
The incident in question occurred late in the fourth quarter of the Steelers’ Nov. 14 loss to the Browns.
The tussle began when Garrett took Rudolph to the ground after the quarterback threw the ball.
Rudolph was upset, likely at what he believed to be a late hit. The two wrestled on the ground, and at one point, Rudolph appeared to be unsuccessfully trying to take off Garrett’s helmet.
Eventually, it was Garrett who ripped the helmet off Rudolph — and then slammed it down on the quarterback’s head.
Here’s the most complete clip I could find. It’s originally from Conor Powers. More tweets and angles on my TL
— Gabriel Schray (@schrayguy) November 15, 2019
Garrett’s indefinite suspension by the NFL was upheld; he won’t play again this season, at a minimum.
But while appealing his suspension to the league, the defensive end alleged that Rudolph directed a racial slur toward him just before the brawl.
“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,” Garrett said in a statement posted to Twitter on Thursday.
“I know what I heard,” he added. “Whether my opponent’s comment was born out of frustration or ignorance, I cannot say.”
— Myles “Flash” Garrett ⚡️ (@MylesLGarrett) November 22, 2019
Rudolph denied the accusation in a fiery statement from his attorney, Timothy M. Younger.
“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,” Younger wrote.
“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,” he said. “This is reckless and shameful.”
Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward also defended his teammate, but perhaps more notably, The Athletic’s Jason Lloyd reported that no player in the Browns locker room heard Garrett say anything about a racial slur.
So if Rudolph really used a slur, why wouldn’t have Garrett said anything earlier?
“If [Garrett] would’ve come off the field and even said it to his teammates that [Rudolph] said that, he would’ve gained a lot of support all around,” Villanueva told The Athletic. “It is the No. 1 rule. When you are a non-African American and use that, you are burning bridges. When it comes out a week later, it certainly raises a lot of questions. Why wasn’t it said earlier?
“If this is a Hail Mary, then he’s damaging a reputation for life.”
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