Ah, a racial element to this already freakishly ugly, brutal incident. How delightful.

I remember seeing people ask about this on social media in the hours after the Browns/Steelers game. Had Rudolph provoked Garrett? Specifically, had he uttered the most taboo of all slurs, a word American media typically won’t print even when it’s quoting someone saying it? Had he said the word?

The implication being that, if he had, certainly we couldn’t fault Garrett too much for trying to crack his skull open on national television.

Is that what Garrett is after in raising this point now? It’d be one thing for him to complain that Rudolph also deserves a stiff suspension because he used racial invective, but Garrett made this claim during his own appeal. Whether Rudolph is or isn’t penalized is of no consequence to him. It’s his own punishment that he’s seeking to have reduced. In which case, is he suggesting that the victim’s use of a particular word makes his own attempt to cave in the victim’s head somewhat … justifiable?

In an appeal hearing with the NFL on Wednesday, Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett alleged that Mason Rudolph called him a racial slur just prior to last week’s brawl on “Thursday Night Football,” sources told ESPN’s Josina Anderson and Adam Schefter, an accusation the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback strongly denies.

“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.”…

Garrett made the allegation as part of his initial comments during the appeal hearing in New York, sources said. It created an argumentative exchange between both sides about whether the allegation was permissible.

Should it be permissible? Like I say, raising it on appeal can only mean Garrett thinks he should be punished less severely for an assault because of words used by the victim. If the NFL is sympathetic to that then we’re going to end up playing a game of deciding which other words are mitigating factors when beating a guy with his own helmet. Is it just the word or are there others? Any racial slur? Religious slurs? Slurs involving sexual orientation? Insults aimed at a player’s wife and children?

Garrett was asked after the game if Rudolph had said something to provoke him. No comment:

I’ve looked online to see if there was any serious allegation in the six days since the incident that Rudolph had said anything racially derogatory. You would think Garrett and his agent would have wanted that information out there ASAP amid the public backlash over what he did. “He was provoked. He overreacted, but it was a serious provocation.” Not only was there no evidence of it until now, an ESPN reporter who had speculated about it on Twitter ended up deleting her tweet because her speculation was unsupported:

Garrett issued a statement apologizing to Rudolph after the game too. That would have been the logical moment to add, “But here’s something about the altercation none of you know…” And if he was reluctant to do that for whatever reason, you would expect that someone else on the field might have heard it and volunteered the information in Garrett’s defense. “Rudolph dropped the N-bomb!” No one’s said anything. ESPN even asked one of his teammates whether Garrett might have told them in confidence afterward that Rudolph had crossed the line. Nope:

A Steelers player knows nothing about it either:

Suuuuure smells like Garrett invented this claim after the fact in hopes that it would make the NFL leery of coming down too hard on him. There’s no way to prove he’s lying, but if it could be proved, how much worse should the suspension be for smearing Rudolph as a racist and involving the league in a dispute as fraught as whether the N-word was used as trash talk during a fight?

News is breaking as I write this that Garrett’s indefinite suspension has been upheld on appeal. Exit question: If other players come forward to confirm that Rudolph did say it, what should his suspension be? The league will then have to figure out the comparative severity of using the N-word on the one hand and trying to bust someone’s head open on the other.