As news broke Thursday that Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett, during his appeal hearing with the NFL on Wednesday, accused Mason Rudolph of using a racial slur prior to their fight last week, the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback sought out team captain Cam Heyward.
Heyward says Rudolph was emphatic that he did not use a racial slur.
"He was pretty distraught and said, 'I did not say that,'" the defensive lineman said. "I think we knew that using that as an excuse is not right."
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said Thursday that the league looked into Garrett's allegations that Rudolph used a racial slur "and found no such evidence."
Garrett, whose indefinite suspension for ripping off Rudolph's helmet and clubbing him in the head with it was upheld, stood by his claim in a statement posted to Twitter later Thursday.
"I know what I heard," he wrote. "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."
NFL appeals officer James Thrash upheld all discipline issued to Garrett in a decision announced an hour after Garrett's accusations became public. The league, through appeals officer Derrick Brooks, reduced Maurkice Pouncey's suspension from three games to two, keeping him out for the rematch with the Browns in 10 days.
Heyward said he found out about the allegation on TV in the team's weight room, while others learned of it during practice as coach Mike Tomlin gathered them together at the end of practice to deliver the news and back Rudolph.
"That's the first thing he said after he told us. He said, 'We know Mason didn't say that,'" backup quarterback Devlin Hodges said. "And from there, he said, 'Let's get back to practice and focus on the game.'"
Rudolph did not address reporters Thursday. A day earlier, he told reporters he didn't say anything to Garrett.
"Definitely didn't say anything that escalated it," he said.
Many of the players in the Browns' locker room also first learned of Garrett's allegations Thursday afternoon, and while none of his teammates acknowledged hearing a slur, they said they did not think Garrett would lie about something like that.
"I didn't know nothing about it, nah," defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson said. "I wouldn't doubt it, though. Had to be something to get him out of his body. That's not Myles."
Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. agreed. "I just don't see Myles as someone who would lie or do anything like that," he said.
Steelers offensive lineman Matt Feiler, who was near Rudolph when the melee erupted, said he didn't hear his quarterback use a racial slur.
"I didn't hear anything like that," he said. "Mason's not that kind of guy. He wouldn't say anything like that."
Browns safety Damarious Randall said he suspected Rudolph did say something based on his teammate's reaction last Thursday.
"I've never known Myles as a liar," Randall said. "I've never known him to get that out of character, especially on the field. When it first happened, that was my initial thought. Obviously, I wasn't out there. I hadn't heard anything from nobody about it. I've been trying to move on to the next week and support Myles as much as I can."
The Steelers' locker room emptied quickly after Thursday's practice, and Rudolph, who was scheduled to do interviews, didn't speak. Those who stayed around, though, spoke up for him.
"He's being villainized by it," Heyward said. "He said, 'I'm going to be labeled as that.' I just don't think that's right. That's my teammate. I'm going to fight for him. I'm going to do what's best for him. That kid made a bad mistake, but he never crossed the line when he talked about a racial slur."
Rudolph's teammates were also skeptical about the timing of Garrett's allegations.
"If that would've been said, you would've known about it Thursday night after the game, not a week later when he's trying to appeal," Hodges said. "That guy's got everything on the line for him and he's trying to get anything back."
Heyward also voiced his frustration with Garrett for using the allegation of a racial slur during his appeal hearing.
"I think we've just got to own up to our mistakes as men," he said. "Move the hell on. For that to be a part of the appeal is stupid to me because that doesn't get you out of what you did. We got to move forward, and he's got to own up to his actions."
ESPN's Jake Trotter contributed to this report.