One regrettable, violent moment nearly changed everything for Myles Garrett.
He wouldn't let it.
Suspended, disgraced and branded a villain for his helmet-swinging attack on Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph in the closing seconds of a nationally televised game last year, Garrett found his playing career at a crossroads. He considered quitting.
However, he pushed on and persevered. Garrett turned his story around.
The Browns' star defensive end on Thursday was named the team's Walter Payton Man of the Year, which annually recognizes the NFL’s best players for their excellence on the field and dedication to community service.
“It was never going to deter me or shake my spirit or take me off the path I’ve been on and I was going to go,” Garrett said of the incident with Rudolph, which resulted in a six-game league ban. “I’ve always wanted to do these kinds of things and nothing is going to change that.”
In addition to being one of the game's best defenders, Garrett is also a high-profile ambassador for several charitable causes, serving as the active player captain for Waterboys, an organization focused on bringing clean water to communities in East Africa.
Earlier this year, Garrett took a two-week trip to Tanzania and helped install wells.
He's made an equally significant impact at home. This summer, he reached out to victims of police brutality and their families, and Garrett covered the funeral costs for David McAtee, a barbecue restaurant owner in Louisville, Kentucky, who was shot and killed during protests.
In Cleveland, Garrett teamed up with Cleveland Hope Exchange and local businesses to provide more than 24,000 pounds of food and additional resources to those affected by COVID-19 pandemic.
Powerful and unrelenting on the field. Caring and kind off it.
“Myles has a great heart," Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield said. "If people questioned it because of one action last year, then shame on them because you can learn from mistakes, as I personally know very well. Myles is a great guy. He has been doing things for a lot of people around the world for a while. That just shows his character and his heart.
"He is obviously a great representation of this franchise.”
The Browns stood by Garrett in the aftermath of the Rudolph incident — he claimed the QB used a racial slur — and suspension. The team never wavered in its belief in Garrett and signed him to a five-year, $125 million contract extension in July.
Browns first-year coach Kevin Stefanski said Garrett made a strong early impression.
“Myles, from the moment I have been with him, has been a team player all of the way,” Stefanski said. “And obviously a very high-caliber player. Off of the field, he is very conscientious. He wants to make an impact in this community and really around the country and around the world. He has done an exemplary job at that.”
Garrett credits his family, a “pretty small circle” of friends and teammates with helping him cope during a difficult period following the event with Rudolph.
It's not that he's been trying to make amends over the past year or prove anything to anyone. This wasn't an attempt to rehabilitate his name or standing, or convince people he wasn't vicious.
This was simply Garrett being himself while following the legacy of Payton, the late Chicago Bears Hall of Fame running back for whom the award is named.
“To me, this has nothing to do with what happened last year," said Garrett, who played last week after missing two games with COVID-19.
He's humbled to be singled out by the Browns for his efforts, and he plans to keep serving others.
“It is not about being honored or recognized and praised for what you are doing. It is just about doing it,” he said. "You do not have to have your name called. You do not have to have your name on a banner or hung up or anything. It is just how you live your life. That is it. It is the love and the actual kindness that you have in your heart that you can’t really show.
"You will never be able to explain to people that this is not for show and that you are not trying to put this out so you can get credit. This is not a homework assignment. This is not a test. You are not trying to show that ‘I am holier than thou.’ You are doing it because it comes back to this is who I am, this is who I was raised to be and this is the kind of world that I envision for others.
"I am just trying to do that.”
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