Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett alleged in his appeal hearing that Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph used a racial slur prior to last week's melee, ESPN reported Thursday.
The Washington Post later confirmed the report, adding that Garrett's side raised the accusation at the hearing "in an unusual way," referencing it but not making a request for it to factor in Garrett's defense.
Garrett acknowledged the reports Thursday evening with a statement, reading: "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. 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."
Rudolph denied the accusation by Garrett, who was appealing his indefinite suspension by the NFL at a Wednesday hearing with league-appointed officer James Thrash. Thursday afternoon, the league announced Garrett's suspension was upheld.
"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 early Thursday. "He will not discuss this accusation any further and his focus remains on preparation for Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals."
Rudolph told reporters on Wednesday that he didn't say anything to provoke Garrett before the defensive end removed the quarterback's helmet and struck him on the top of his unprotected head in the closing seconds of last Thursday night's game.
Rudolph's attorney, Timothy M. Younger, responded to ESPN after the allegations were reported.
"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," Younger said.
"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."
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told Pro Football Talk after the ruling was announced Thursday that the league "looked into it and found no such evidence."
It is not known if on-field microphones caught any exchange between the players. Teams typically have a microphone in the shoulder pads of the center or guards, allowing for audio of the quarterback's cadence on a broadcast.
According to ESPN's Jake Trotter, multiple Browns said Thursday that it was the first they had heard about the accusation of a racial slur.
Garrett, 23, was in New York on Wednesday for the hearing. ESPN reported the meeting lasted less than two hours.
With the suspension officially upheld, he will miss at least the rest of this season, including the playoffs should the Browns qualify, and must apply to commissioner Roger Goodell for reinstatement in 2020.
The incident started after Rudolph dumped off a short pass. After getting knocked down, Rudolph appeared to grab at Garrett's helmet before Garrett ripped off Rudolph's helmet and, with Steelers' offensive linemen attempting to intervene, hit the quarterback in the head with it.
Rudolph, who missed time earlier this season with a concussion after being knocked unconscious by Earl Thomas of the Baltimore Ravens, was not injured.
Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey received a three-game suspension for punching and kicking Garrett during the melee. His punishment was reduced to a two-game suspension on appeal.
Browns defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi was handed a one-game suspension for shoving Rudolph in the back. That suspension was upheld upon appeal on Wednesday.
--Field Level Media