Can the Browns Restore Their Brand Image?
Following the NFL brawl that made Thursday Night Football trend
Browns defensive end Myles Garrett hits Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph of the Steelers over the head with his helmet during the second half in the game at FirstEnergy Stadium on Thursday night in Cleveland, Ohio.
Jason Miller/Getty Images
Thursday Night Football was supposed to be a good one: you had an NFL division rivalry paired with a college in-state quarterback rivalry. Both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns had ups and downs in their season thus far. Both were coming off of wins and both needed to secure this win to help achieve playoff possibility. Oklahoma University quarterback Baker Mayfield was reuniting against Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph. Makes for a good Thursday, right?
Come Monday morning, those people who turned off the game and went to bed not expecting much from the game, awoke to "NFL brawl" and "Myles Garrett" trending. While this is the end of the game and most talked about, let's see how the game transpired to get to the end, and how the Cleveland Browns reacted before, during, and after.
Right from the first possession, Cleveland came for direct contact. Then in the second quarter, a double helmet-to-helmet took out Steelers JuJu Smith-Schuster. Referees made no calls on this play. This is just the start of a lack of discipline from Browns’ leadership, their players, and the refs. How did the Browns react to this? Let’s see… Mack Wilson tweeted (and since deleted because PR says this isn’t a good look) of JuJu laying down with a caption 1–0. Class act.
The Steelers weren’t poised to be amazing this season. Following drama with Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown last season, curious minds wondered how the Steelers would perform and if Ben Roethlisberger, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and James Connor could find their groove.
During the second game of the regular season, Big Ben injured his elbow and was marked out for the remainder of the season. Head coach Mike Tomlin already released back-up quarterback Josh Dobbs, leaving rookie Mason Rudolph to step up. Looking at this game against the Browns, the Steelers seemed like they were playing a preseason game with the names on the field. At the end of the first half, the Browns were winning 14–0. I have no idea what was said in the locker room, but it sure looked like doubling down on helmet-to-helmet as their strategy to stay ahead.
In the third quarter, Browns Damarious Randall hit Steelers Diontae Johnson helmet-to-helmet causing blood to stream down Johnson’s ear. It took a call from the guy in charge of the referees in New York to eject Randall. Tensions had to be high at this point on the field. Steelers rallied back with a touchdown and when they shouldn’t have been considered in the game, they were down by one score.
How did Randall react? He threw a tantrum not being able to understand how he got ejected. He smiled as Johnson lay motionless and dazed upon standing. That’s basically a $9M spoiled baby and another product of Cleveland trash. But to the Browns, they still had more to give. The Steelers lost control of the game and Rudolph started to throw more passes to Browns players than their own quarterback Mayfield.
With less than 10 seconds remaining in the game, and no chance for the Steelers to come back, the Browns thought it was a good time to get one final helmet play. They upped their ante, with Myles Garrett taking off a quarterback’s helmet and bashing it against his head. I don’t care what Rudolph said, whispered, tapped, joked, or touched. That reaction from Garrett was disgraceful, but it was on par with how the Browns reacted to every other situation.
Following the catastrophe of a game, Browns’ head coach Freddie Kitchens seemed to only care that no one would be talking about the Browns finally winning and beating both the Steelers and Ravens in a season. He got extremely defensive when asked about all of the helmet-to-helmets and said that was common in football each week like it’s no big deal. Greedy Williams tweeted “it’s a great day to be a Brown” to which the Browns retweeted.
When Garrett was questioned after the game, he also made it seem like the only thing he was sorry for was that the Browns wouldn’t be celebrated because of this action. He seemed arrogant and pretty confident he’d be playing again soon. With news that he’s out for the regular and postseason, let’s make sure when he meets with the Commissioner he is never allowed to return.
What happened with Garrett was not unsportsmanlike conduct — it was assault.
On live television, he aggressively and intently beat a player with a weapon. Just like Randall being confused at how he got ejected when the tape so clearly shows him attacking after a play was over, there is no way to justify Garrett’s actions. These players are so self-absorbed and their coach isn’t any better. The only player on the Browns team to show some genuine hope was Mayfield, who called the action "inexcusable" and that was immediately following the game on the field before everyone could get together on talking points.
I know the argument can be made that athletes have done many inexcusable things like abuse women and animals and even murder, yet generally go unscathed because of their celebrity status and wealth. This isn’t excusable and while many things happen in their personal life outside of work they fall into a different scope, but that doesn’t change the wrongdoing. Garrett assaulted a co-worker with millions of witnesses watching live. The NFL didn’t delay the punishment. They were swift to react, but more should be done for these employees of the league. Garrett should not be allowed to play again for his abuse. If he won’t face charges in the real-world as a threat, he should not be allowed to rejoin his workplace where he already posed malice.
So what about Maurkice Pouncey? Following the attack on Rudolph, he jumped in punching and kicking Garrett. I don’t condone violent outbursts. I would, however, liken this situation to an armed intruder during a home invasion. If you have a defenseless person (Rudolph sans helmet) and an aggressive and violent person (Garrett) who already struck, and a third person comes in to defend and stop said attacker (Pouncey), are they guilty of assault? If someone who witnesses an attack becomes a bystander do we celebrate them? Or do we punish someone who fights back to stop someone who shows no sign of relenting on their own?
When the incident first occurred, many people were quick to ask what Rudolph could have done to possibly cause that reaction. It seems many who were saying this would be quick to defend and call this victim-blaming in any other situation. ESPN commentator Josina Anderson removed her initial tweet that implied Rudolph had to say something racist to get that kind of response. So, does that make it right? If you don’t like someone’s words you can assault them? If the victim isn’t charged then it’s white privilege? Get real with yourself. A man hit another with a weapon. I don’t care what race either is — the action was wrong. End of story.
So, what did we learn from this debacle?
1. Public relations rules. There were multiple deleted tweets including Browns players and ESPN commentators who had to delete posts for fear of public opinion. We know nothing can be deleted from Twitter, so it was pointless and they should just own their initial comments no matter how wrong or absurd they may be. Josina Anderson admitted an apology on a “private parts” tweet, another of her mishaps on the platform since this game happened. Social media, Twitter in particular, has become a big problem for public faces who have a difficult time thinking before tweeting and either being pressured to delete or realize on their own that it might not have been the best words at the right time. The Browns tweeting after that game it was a good day shows they have zero understanding or compassion.
2. Kitchens has no control. History says that each of the previous Browns coaches were let go after a Steelers game. Kitchens had 3 ejections in this game, Browns have the most penalities since the 70’s and lead the league in ejections and penalties this year. Fear not: Cleveland comes to Pittsburgh December 1. Seeing if he can find some composure and leadership will be key during that game. Thus far his only leadership is creating dirty players. As one of the top brand representatives of the team, Kitchens needs to embrace his comments and help build a better image of himself and his players. They just look like a mess even after a win.
3. Some mistakes can change your life. I don’t know Myles Garrett. Many people including a former high school coach said this was uncharacteristic. His Twitter feed shows he gives back to causes. I’ve said this before: it only takes one PR scuffle to destroy a lifetime of brand building. I don’t think Garrett should come back to the NFL to play, but I do hope he finds a better way of handling situations and that he can find the light through the darkness and able to give back to the organizations he always supported.
4. Take ownership and follow-through. After Garrett was given an indefinite suspension, Browns Owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam said they understand the consequences the League set and said Garrett's actions were "unacceptable." The fact that Garrett wants to appeal the NFL decision is contradictory to what the Haslam's said he deserved and they would be willing to accept any punishment. This appeal does not support his own messaging that he is willing to prove and show his character and accept ownership for his actions.
Fortunately, all of the players who were involved with after-play attacks will be okay. But this should be a wakeup call to the NFL and the players. Regardless of your personal feelings and emotions, you still are at work, and part of their publicity means they are role models to kids. We all need to do better. But those of us who have been called to a higher profile especially need to.
Freddie Kitchens is right about one thing, they are an embarrassment. Some thought the Browns were always a joke having a two-year losing spree but this season and this particular incident will forever tarnish them — the Budlight might be sitting in a locked up cooler for a while waiting for this image to be restored.