It’s not as if they didn’t know it was the wrong thing to do. They just didn’t care.
How else to explain the Redskins’ latest justification of the Reuben Foster debacle? “Basically what you’re doing here is you’re taking a high-risk chance,” Doug Williams, Washington’s senior vice president of player personnel, said Thursday during a weekly radio appearance. “The high risk was the beat-up that we’re going to take from PR. We understood that from a PR standpoint, and we’re taking it.”
To recap: On Saturday night, Foster was arrested on one count of first-degree misdemeanor domestic violence battery at a Tampa hotel, where he was staying with other members of the San Francisco 49ers ahead of their game against the Buccaneers. Less than 12 hours after his arrest, he was waived by the 49ers. On Tuesday, the Redskins claimed Foster; they were the only team to submit a waiver. Then, faced with backlash, team brass went on the record explaining that their primary concern in hiring Foster was … negative PR.
Not that a woman identifying herself as Foster’s ex-girlfriend called 911 on Saturday to say that her boyfriend had just slapped her in the face and broken her phone. Not that the same woman told police last February that Foster had dragged her by her hair across his home and punched her in the head eight to 10 times, resulting in a ruptured eardrum, a swollen lip, and cuts to her neck and legs. She later told a judge that she fabricated those claims, and the charges against Foster were dropped. But still: the ruptured eardrum, the swollen lip, the cuts. We do not know what happened in February, just as we do not know what happened last weekend. But there are questions about Foster, now, that any reasonable person—much less any reasonable employer—should want to have answered. These are difficult things, sensitive things, important things, and there are conversations that are imperative to have. The violence Foster is said to have committed just days ago, and the NFL’s less-than-stellar record in responding appropriately to domestic violence cases involving its players and employees, mandates a thoughtful, careful, and rigorous process.
Instead of waiting for that process to begin, the Redskins decided to bring Foster to Washington and ask questions later. Officials insist they will do their due diligence before letting Foster see the field, but as of Wednesday, they had not even bothered to contact Foster’s former girlfriend to ask about what happened in Tampa, according to her attorney. There’s just one way to read that: The team simply didn’t care. Confoundingly, Foster is highly unlikely to suit up for any team this year—hours after he was claimed by Washington, the NFL announced that it had placed the inside linebacker on the Commissioner Exempt list, effectively ending his season. Still, as Washington leadership deliberated over bringing in Foster this week, the potential benefits were all football-related—what he might add to the team, the extent to which he might do so cheaply—and the downside was simply: How mad will people get at us? The cost-benefit analysis didn’t begin to take human beings into account, and when pressed on this failure, Redskins leaders still can’t even pretend to regret their decision.
Some of the other flimsy defenses trotted out by the team in recent days: Washington’s other Alabama products vouched for him. (Never mind that two of Foster’s former Tide teammates, Jonathan Allen and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, said that they’d never spoken to team officials about Foster.) Or, in a baffling Tuesday statement from Williams, that the presence of Foster’s “former teammates and friends” might provide him with “the best possible environment to succeed both personally and professionally.” (Never mind that Foster is an adult and that domestic violence is not something to be regarded as some sort of youthful mistake, and that for the Redskins even to propose this is to suggest a willingness to look beyond the allegations before they’ve even been investigated.) Or this, also from Williams’s Thursday radio appearance: “We’ve got people who are in high, high, high, high places that have done far worse, and if you look at it realistically, they’re still up there. This is small potatoes [compared to] a lot of things out there.”
We’ve often seen teams respond seemingly only to the stimulus of negative feedback: Consider the University of Maryland, which cut its ties with D.J. Durkin only after its decision to retain him was met with widespread outrage. With Foster, the Redskins have distinguished themselves by not even pretending to be concerned with doing the right thing. They would have us believe that they are a football team that makes only football decisions, and that if people don’t like it—well, that’s fine; they were expecting that. Shame on us, perhaps, for daring to expect even a shred of integrity instead.