As much as some might want it to be purely a moral issue, it wasn’t quite that. As much as some might want to use it as a predictor of Rivera’s disciplinary approach, it wasn’t quite that, either. It was punishment that Rivera considered appropriate for this particular player in this particular climate, just weeks after The Washington Post story on widespread sexual harassment and verbal abuse allegations within the organization. Beyond that, Rivera was cautious about its meaning.
“Each situation, each circumstance, is unique,” Rivera told reporters Monday on a video conference call. “Each one will be handled and dealt with differently to what we believe is best for the organization going forward, and that’s probably the most important thing.
“I talked with the players [Sunday] and basically told them I made a decision I thought was in the best interest of our organization. If it was the right decision, we will benefit from it. If it’s not, it will be on me. I will take full responsibility as we go forward and try and make sure we do things the right way. From that, I want to move forward.”
Rivera did not portray himself as a purveyor of righteousness. He would never be so pretentious, and that’s the best part about him. He just wanted to be known as a man who made a tough decision for a franchise going through a turbulent time. Add self-awareness to the coach’s list of best traits.
Rivera knows he’s a man who, with the Carolina Panthers, supported and kept Greg Hardy for an uncomfortably long time before he was found guilty of assaulting his girlfriend. Rivera knows he inherited linebacker Reuben Foster, who has a past full of legal issues and domestic violence accusations. And he knows the team signed wide receiver Cody Latimer, who is on the commissioner’s exempt list after being arrested on eight charges in Colorado, including assault and illegal discharge of a firearm.
When asked why Foster — who has been with the team since November 2018 and has stayed out of trouble while recovering from knee injuries — deserves a second chance that Guice won’t receive, Rivera delved into the nuance. Their cases can’t be lumped into the same category. Foster came to Washington as a reclamation project long before Rivera arrived. Guice’s case — which includes an allegation of strangling a woman until she was unconscious — demanded immediate action, considering all of the scrutiny on the franchise.
Inaction is not a luxury anymore. With Guice, trust was a problem. And for all his talent, he has been limited to five games over two seasons because of knee injuries. A new coach would be foolish to cash in goodwill for Guice. His lawyer can lament the lack of due process, but that’s a legal standard, not a football right.
“Well, I think the biggest thing is Reuben was claimed here and after he went through the process, certain things came out and he had his moment to be able to settle himself in and show that he was exonerated for the most part,” Rivera said. “Again, it’s always a difficult decision when you come to these things. Reuben and I have talked about some things, some specific stuff — I’m not going to get into details. But the one thing Reuben has shown since I’ve been here is that he is doing things the right way. He is doing things the way we need him to do, and he has been excellent. He really has. He’s done great things in terms of his rehab. He’s done a great job in terms of working with our coaches. I’m excited for the young man’s opportunity.
“You know, here’s a guy who needed a change of scenery. I think that may be one of the things that has truly benefited him. Who knows? That’s what might be needed in Derrius’s case — an opportunity for a change of scenery.”
In Washington, the concepts of character, culture, discipline and fairness are a tangled mess. On many levels, this is a broken franchise. It’s the ultimate challenge for Rivera and all of the integrity he brings to the table, this attempt to get owner Daniel Snyder to make good on his promises and persuasion. Rivera is going to need to employ and tighten up every managerial tactic in his repertoire.
For Washington, it’s back to the sports cliche du jour: Change the culture. Someone is always vowing to change the culture.
People have changed it. No one has fixed it; not in a sustainable way, not with Snyder in charge. Here comes Rivera, who has had the wildest seven-month initiation. For a coach with a 0-0 record in Washington, he sure has been tested. Pandemic. Name change. Toxic culture. Bad apples. Rivera already has had to make tough decisions, hold things together and answer for controversies he did not create.
Change the culture? Maybe, after all this intense early training, he’ll be fully equipped to do something revolutionary. Or maybe it’s an omen.
Rivera seems like a good man. He should invest in some good armor.