PITTSBURGH — Two days after issuing a statement strongly supporting his quarterback, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin appeared on First Take to continue defending Mason Rudolph in the wake of another allegation made by Myles Garrett in an interview with ESPN’s Mina Kimes, and to voice his frustration with the coverage.
“The most recent one this past weekend, I took offense to it, to be quite honest with you,” Tomlin told ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith. “… I fully support Mason Rudolph. We, as an organization, fully support Mason Rudolph. To be quite honest with you, we were hacked off by what we saw this weekend.”
Tomlin added: “I think [Rudolph’s] reputation needs to be defended and defended aggressively.”
Not only was Tomlin frustrated by Garrett’s characterization of Rudolph in his interview with Kimes — during which Garrett said Rudolph called him “the N-word” — he was also upset with the tone of the panel discussion on Outside the Lines after the interview aired Saturday morning.
“These accusations are serious, not only in terms of Mason Rudolph’s character, but his professional pursuits,” Tomlin told Smith. “Nobody on that field, as a member of the Cleveland Browns or the Pittsburgh Steelers, corroborated what was said by Myles Garrett. … At no point during that piece this weekend was that stated.”
Tomlin said that the way the situation was presented wasn’t “fair” to Rudolph, which led to him agreeing to appear on First Take — especially rare because Tomlin doesn’t typically do interviews between the conclusion of the season and league owners’ meetings in April.
“It was presented as a he said/he said situation, even to this day,” Tomlin said. “I think the National Football League office was very clear that they launched a thorough investigation among all parties involved, including interviewing the people and the analysis of technology that was on that field, and found no evidence of Myles’ allegation, and I think that should be stated.”
In the interview with Kimes, Garrett blamed Rudolph for starting the fight that led to $732,422 in fines and the discipline of 33 players, and said Rudolph used the slur as he was being sacked by Garrett.
Rudolph spoke out about the allegation in a tweet Saturday, calling Garrett’s claim “1000 percent false” and a “bold-faced lie.”
Rudolph initially engaged with Garrett on the ground, and then charged at him after Garrett forcibly removed Rudolph’s helmet. Then, Garrett hit Rudolph over the head with the helmet.
“I don’t say the N-word, whether it’s with ‘a’ [or] ‘er.’ To me, personally, [it] just shouldn’t be said, whether it’s by family, friends, anyone,” Garrett told Kimes. “I don’t want to use it because I don’t want [people to] find that appropriate around me for anyone to use.
“When he said it, it kind of sparked something, but I still tried to let it go and still walk away. But once he came back, it kind of reignited the situation. And not only have you escalated things past what they needed to be with such little time in the game left, now you’re trying to reengage and start a fight again. It’s definitely not entirely his fault; it’s definitely both parties doing something that we shouldn’t have been doing.”
At the time, an NFL spokesman said the league “found no such evidence” that Rudolph used the slur.
Garrett told Kimes that he believed there was recorded audio proving what Rudolph said.
“There were guys who were mic’d up near me, near us, during that time who didn’t hear anything,” Garrett said. “And from what I’ve heard, there (might) have been audio during that game that could have heard something or could not have heard something, but they don’t want to say.”
However, a league spokesman told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Saturday that no sound from the field was recorded. The spokesman added that linemen are mic’d up to amplify ambient sound but that the mics do not record and are shut off after the ball is snapped.
The NFL also released a statement Saturday noting that, after checking with the officiating crew, “no player on either team came forward to say they heard (Rudolph) say it on the field.” On Monday, Tomlin said the idea that the Steelers could be involved in a cover-up was “laughable.”
Asked how culpable Rudolph should be for his role in the brawl, Tomlin admitted he struggled with the thought.
“It’s been a lot of negativity around Mason Rudolph,” Tomlin said. “He got fined $50,000 for essentially getting beat up. His reputation has been tarnished because of the allegations, none of which was founded. He was a quarterback in the losing circumstances at the end of a football game. Obviously he was an active participant in the altercation, but a lot of the things that have gone on beyond that, I struggle with.”
In a statement issued Saturday, Rudolph’s agent and attorney, Tim Younger, said the “defamatory” statements by Garrett exposed him to “legal liability.”
Tomlin wouldn’t speculate on what legal steps, if any, Rudolph and his team would pursue, but said, “I would expect him to do what was appropriate in terms of protecting his name and reputation. I would do so aggressively, and I don’t blame him.”