I was called the N-word as a player. I was lucky someone heard it | Etan Thomas

Myles Garretts claim that a racial slur prompted his outburst brings back an ugly memory from my career. But as I learned, his fate is out of his hands unless someone backs him up

The reported allegation that Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph directed a racial slur at Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett before their ugly brawl on Monday Night Football takes me back to my freshman season at Syracuse University. I was playing in a game and a white player on the other team called me the N-word. I remember walking away from him after a little tussle, then turning around and rushing towards him the moment I heard it exit his mouth. My teammates restrained me and I managed to get a push and a swing off that didnt connect before I was ejected from the game.

Etan Thomas

After my ejection, our assistant coach Louis Orr came to me at halftime and asked me what happened to get me so upset, as it was out of character for me. At the time I was mostly known as being the quiet kid on the team. I remember telling Coach Orr what occurred and him shaking his head and saying that he was sorry that happened and that he would support me but that I had to think first before I reacted, that I was too intelligent to give anyone that type of power over me and that now I put myself in a position where the media could demonize me the way they do. They could use language like Etan Thomas brutally attacked or violently assaulted or maliciously mauled this poor innocent player and encourage the powers that be to throw the book at me as far as a punishment. You put your fate in their hands, and more times than not, we will lose that battle. As much as I didnt want to hear it at the time, Coach Orr was 100% correct.

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Coach Boeheim had a somewhat different tactic when he approached me but quickly understood that it wasnt the best time to berate me and quickly backed off.

However, later on a few of my teammates told me that while they were going through the line after the game shaking hands with the other team, Coach Boeheim said to the player something along the lines of: You know what you said to my player, and you were wrong.

The newspapers asked me what happened in the locker room and I told them that I shouldnt have responded the way that I did, but that word should never come out of a white persons mouth any time for any reason. I added that I didnt even allow black people to use that word in my presence and with a history as ugly as this country has, it would be disrespectful to my ancestors if I allowed a white person to ever say it.

Most of my coaches had my back the entire time, but not many other people were willing to believe me until someone in the media who was close to the court verified that they did in fact hear the player call me the N-word. I remember asking Coach Orr why would I need someone to validate my story in order for them to not believe that I was making the entire thing up. And he told me, unfortunately, thats just the way it works.

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Enter: Myles Garrett.

Garrett made an allegation during an appeal hearing with the NFL on Wednesday that alleged Rudolph called him the N-word prior to their altercation, a claim that Rudolph vehemently denies. Unfortunately for Myles, nobody else is backing his claim or offering him any type of support. His coach didnt support him the way Coach Boeheim and Coach Orr supported me, at least not publicly.

Browns coach Freddie Kitchens on Thursday declined to address the incident or his conversations with Garrett regarding the incident.

What Myles and I talk about stays between Myles and I, Kitchens said. Im sure Myles presented himself professionally, like hes done ever since the moment it happened [and] afterward. Hes been nothing but professional in his responses.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

In addition, none of the players have come forward to support his claim.

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If even one person came forward and said that he heard it would definitely help his case, but for nobody to come forward and support him leads a large amount of the public to question the validity of his claim altogether. It doesnt mean his claims are untrue, but as I learned many years ago at Syracuse, its beneficial to have a witness to validate your story.

Another factor working against Garrett is the question of why he didnt shout this from the mountaintops immediately after the game. Why wait until a week later to make the allegation during the appeal process? Again, it doesnt mean it didnt happen, but the optics are not in his favor.

Not surprisingly, Rudolph told reporters he didnt say or do anything to provoke Garrett or escalate the situation. Although we have all seen the video evidence of what started the altercation and can easily come to the conclusion that Rudolph is far from an innocent victim in this, he maintains that he did nothing wrong. The reality is, we can clearly see that Rudolph was attempting to pull Garretts helmet off first and that he started the entire altercation. N-word or not, Rudolph picked a fight and Garrett finished it. And although rumors are swarming that a possible fine could be handed down in the near future, Rudolph hasnt been punished in any way, shape or form to this point and insists that he is completely unaware of any reason for Garrett to react in a violent manner towards him. Garrett asserts that all he wants to do is play football for the Browns and be the best human being he could be. (An exaggeration, but thats the picture he is painting with his comments.)

Also against Garretts favor, the Steelers issued a statement saying: Mason vehemently denies the report of being accused of using a racial slur during the incident Thursday night in Cleveland. He will not discuss this accusation any further and his focus remains on preparation for Sundays game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

To pile on even further, Rudolphs attorney, Timothy M Younger told reporters 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 Masons 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.

The malicious use of this wild and unfounded allegation is an assault on Masons integrity which is far worse than the physical assault witnessed on Thursday. This is reckless and shameful. We will have no further comment.

Naturally, Rudolphs lawyer is putting a lot of extra on it and earning his fee while addressing the media about his client, but thats what hes supposed to do. All the chips are stacked against Garrett.

To make matters worse, the NFL didnt budge on his appeal as they found no such evidence that Rudolph used a racial slur. They also rejected what was probably a much better argument: that there were no witnesses, the coach didnt support his claim, and no teammate came forward in support either. According to ESPNs Dan Graziano, Garretts team attempted to use a precedent-based argument pointing to the fact that the NFLs punishment of former Houston Texans defensive end Antonio Smith in 2013, when he swung a helmet at Richie Incognito of the Miami Dolphins, wasnt a suspension for the remainder of the season but only a ban of two preseason games and one regular-season contest. In addition, Garrett and the NFL players union argued that an indefinite suspension was not legal under the guidelines of the leagues collective bargaining agreement.

So it comes as no surprise the NFL denied his appeal and upheld their original suspension. It doesnt mean that this didnt happen. But with no support, no one verifying the story and the coach not backing him, Garrett has painted himself into a corner where hes placed his fate in their hands. And as Coach Orr told me, more times than not, we will lose that battle.

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