The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

By claiming Reuben Foster, the Redskins show they’re numb, indifferent and reckless

Reuben Foster has been placed on the commissioner’s exempt list while the NFL conducts an investigation.
Reuben Foster has been placed on the commissioner’s exempt list while the NFL conducts an investigation. (Darryl Webb/Associated Press)
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The Washington Redskins don’t condone domestic violence. They just refuse to let it stop them from acquiring a talented player.

In a league full of franchises with wobbly morals, only one team dared to make a waiver claim on former San Francisco 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster. For the rest of the NFL, the risk was too great. The player’s history was too troubling. The latest accusation was too disturbing. But where the competition recognized the need for caution, Washington saw opportunity.

On Saturday, Foster had been arrested in Tampa on a misdemeanor domestic violence charge. The 49ers released him Sunday. It was his second domestic abuse incident involving the same woman. The victim recanted the previous charge in court in May. In less than two NFL seasons, the 24-year-old has stayed in trouble. His legal transgressions include being arrested for a misdemeanor weapons charge and misdemeanor marijuana possession. As a prospect at the 2017 scouting combine — the most important job interview of his life — Foster got into an altercation with a hospital employee and reportedly failed a drug test because of a diluted sample.

For many reasons, Washington should have been hesitant. But it was too busy salivating. Foster is a troubled young man. He is also a rare, agile, sideline-to-sideline inside linebacker who could help a Washington defense that needs his athleticism, his knack for erasing mistakes with his speed and his versatility to excel in running and passing situations. Instead of waiting for Foster to clear waivers and become a free agent, instead of waiting to investigate his latest arrest, his history of transgressions and his potential NFL discipline in greater detail, your favorite ne’er-do-well franchise did what it often does: the wrong thing.

It looked at Foster for his value as a player, not for the signs that indicate a lack of character as a person. Bad dude? Maybe, but what if he’s redeemable? Then the team would have a high-level talent who is just in the second season of a four-year, $9 million rookie contract that includes an option for a fifth season. Foster was the No. 31 pick in 2017. That’s a cheap deal for a linebacker capable of exceeding 100 tackles a season.

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The hidden costs are extreme, however: image, integrity, public trust. The Redskins are that franchise again. They don’t stand for anything. They knew this decision would get them roasted, which is why they quickly released a statement from Doug Williams, the senior vice president of player personnel, after the news broke. And they misspelled his last name, in all caps, on the release: WILLAMS. It only got worse from there.

“Today we have claimed the rights to LB Reuben Foster,” the statement read. “The Redskins fully understand the severity of the recent allegations made against Reuben. If true, you can be sure these allegations are nothing our organization would ever condone. Let me be clear, Reuben will have to go through numerous steps including the full legal process, an investigation and potential discipline from the NFL, as well as meetings with counselors associated with the team before he will ever have the opportunity to wear the Burgundy and Gold as a player.

“That being said, we decided to investigate the situation with Reuben further by claiming his rights after candid conversations with a number of his ex-Alabama teammates and current Redskins players who were overwhelmingly supportive of us taking this chance. Nothing is promised to Reuben, but we are hopeful being around so many of his former teammates and friends will eventually provide him with the best possible environment to succeed both personally and professionally.”

Oh, boy. Where to begin?

You can’t pretend to be righteous and still make this move. Don’t capitalize “burgundy” and “gold.” Don’t act like playing for this franchise means something special right now, because a man can be accused of slapping a woman with an open hand and then be welcomed to your team 72 hours later.

Washington may fully understand the severity of the allegations, but does it care about what allegedly happened? If it did, there is no way Foster would be associated with the team this soon. For the franchise, this is not about Foster’s guilt or innocence. The legal system will determine that. This is about the undeniable fact that there hasn’t been enough time to investigate Foster and his alleged misdeeds, and make an informed decision to take such an image-smearing risk.

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So let me be clear now. Thirty-one other teams knew that. The burgundy and gold saw only a chance to cut the line, get a gifted linebacker and cross one item off its team-building wish list.

Soon after the Foster claim, the NFL put the linebacker on the commissioner’s exempt list while the league does an actual investigation of the incident and decides whether Foster deserves to be suspended. Foster won’t be allowed to practice or attend games in Washington, but he can be at Redskins Park, attend meetings and do non-football activities. The Redskins didn’t make this move for now, however. They acquired Foster knowing he probably would not have an impact on the remainder of this season. He might not be available for part of next season, either. But to them, Foster was almost like a free draft pick.

They really have gone too far now with their Alabama infatuation. It was fine to fix the defensive line and sprinkle in some winning character with some of Nick Saban’s finest. But the rotten are welcome, too? The statement attributed to Williams used the logic that, because Foster’s college buddies vouched for him, he’s worth taking a chance on. It doesn’t make any sense. It feels like a Bruce Allen special. As the team president, he has a track record of overseeing callous, illogical and destructive decision-making.

Foster should be fighting to prove he deserves an NFL career. He shouldn’t be stashed away on the roster of a franchise that’s hoping to play the long game and benefit from his skills after the public stops caring about this story.

You would think that, after nearly two decades of endless controversy under owner Daniel Snyder, Washington would be smarter. You would think the franchise would be careful, at least. But the Redskins have been lost for too long. They are numb, indifferent. They are reckless. Foster will only help them go one way: lower. They’ll remember that sinking feeling.

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