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The positive thing about Thursday night’s inexcusable violence near the end of an NFL game between the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers is that so many people were stunned by it. Even teammates and the coach of Cleveland’s Myles Garrett, who removed the Pittsburgh quarterback’s helmet and hit him with it, called his actions “inexcusable” and “totally unacceptable.”

Myles Garrett suspended after brawl. NFL experts weigh in on what it means
That means a strong sense of decorum and civility remains in American competitive sports, which is encouraging. Garrett is now suspended for the rest of the season, and maybe longer. Some are urging the league to make an example of him through severe penalties and possibly even assault charges.

The league needs to react to Thursday night’s melee in a decisive way that signals it intends to take violent behavior seriously, both on and off the field.

Clearly, it also needs to do a better job of evaluating the link between repeated legal blows on the field and violent behavior. The long-term effects of those hits may have been typified last summer by Le’Ron McClain, a retired fullback, who tweeted a desperate plea for help and claimed the league wasn’t doing enough.

In fact, the league settled a class-action suit recently, offering up to $5 million in compensation to players dealing with the effects of head injuries. But that doesn’t adequately address problems on the field that lead to those injuries and, perhaps, violent behavior — a problem that affects the game at all levels.

To be clear, we’re not suggesting a connection between what happened Thursday night with head injuries — just that the violence again has brought a focus to a sport that, by nature, can be brutal.

The league needs to react to Thursday night’s melee in a decisive way that signals it intends to take violent behavior seriously, both on and off the field.
It’s important, as well, to put Thursday’s incident in perspective. There may be no excuse for using a helmet as a weapon, but sports has a long history of similar disturbing incidents.

Fifteen years ago, an NBA game was marred when Indiana’s Ron Artest leapt into the stands in Detroit and, aided by four teammates, attacked fans.

Even that wasn’t unprecedented. Back on May 15, 1912, Ty Cobb of baseball’s Detroit Tigers and several of his teammates took to the stands in New York with baseball bats. Cobb beat a fan who had lost one hand and three fingers on the other years earlier during a printing press accident.

In a 1938 football game between Tulane and Louisiana State, a fight erupted and was joined by fans and players. The Associated Press said some fans tore apart parts of the stadium and used its pieces as clubs. The fighting “went on ’till darkness,” the report said.

Local fans may recall when BYU defensive tackle Pulusila Filiaga jumped an umpire in 1981 and began punching him before other players pulled him away. That resulted in a season-long suspension.

As spectator sports grow ever more important in American society, the ability to confine violence within the boundaries of well-defined rules and a field, court or rink can become a measuring rod of civility in a broader sense.

Reaction to Thursday’s fight would indicate that the dividing line between sport and emotion remains strong. But there is more organized sports can do to keep it that way, both during games and, where players are concerned, for years after.

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