When news broke Tuesday afternoon that the Washington Redskins had claimed linebacker Reuben Foster on waivers, the reaction from many was hard and swift.
What a joke, some wrote. An embarrassment, fans screamed.
From coast to coast, people could not believe that Washington had claimed a player who, just three days earlier, had been arrested and charged with domestic battery for the second time in 10 months for allegations of violence against the same woman.
But I could.
We’ve seen this fury regarding violence against women and the NFL’s tacit acceptance of it. It happened in 2017 when the Cincinnati Bengals drafted Joe Mixon, who was suspended from Oklahoma for punching a woman. It also happened in 2016, when the Kansas City Chiefs picked Tyreek Hill, who pled guilty to punching and choking his pregnant girlfriend and was kicked off Oklahoma State’s team.
In Kansas City specifically, the Chiefs were inundated by angry messages, and the team raced to take the unusual step of putting the head coach and general manager in front of the media to explain themselves on the same day.
Here’s the thing about that Hill uproar: it went away quickly, almost as soon as Hill developed into an All-Pro return man. By the time his rookie season ended, fans at Arrowhead Stadium were chanting his name before kick returns.
As Hill has performed better, turning himself into arguably the league’s top deep threat as a wide receiver, you never hear about his unsavory past in Kansas City, as Hill has tapped into his vast talent while staying out of trouble off the field. Same goes for Mixon, who has become the bell cow running back in Cincinnati.
Washington claimed Foster hoping for a similar outcome, with the knowledge that — if it can endure the initial criticism of claiming him, and Foster is then cleared of charges he faces in Florida — they will have acquired an immensely talented 24-year-old at a position of need, optics be damned.
What’s more, the Redskins were willing to take this initial blowback, all because they knew that if this all pans out — with the former first-rounder being cleared of charges and turning into a heat-seeking, All-Pro star — the majority of their fans will then forgive both the player, and the team, in time.
Given Foster’s talent and the fact the latest incident involves the same woman who previously recanted after accusing him of domestic violence in the past, there’s a decent possibility this happens like this, by the way.
Again, the optics of this are horrible for Washington. By claiming Foster, it looks like the Redskins are minimizing the significance of the charges. This entire saga is the latest reminder of why you should never, ever underestimate what the NFL is at its core.
Behind all the highlights, all the touchdowns and all the public relations stunts and charity, the NFL is a business, a hustle that not only gives these very wealthy people guaranteed profits in the millions on a yearly basis, but significant prestige, too. There are only 32 teams in America’s most popular sport, and owning one guarantees kingmaker status in specific regions … especially if they win.
This is the reality NFL teams inhabit, where winning games at all costs leads to organizations making even more money, which then leads to those in charge of those franchises doing whatever is necessary to win so they can protect their own seven-figure jobs for as long as they can.
This reality led to the combination of arrogance and tone-deafness that made the Redskins decide to not make team president Bruce Allen — who reportedly “masterminded” the choice — and senior vice president of player personnel Doug Williams available to the media to answer questions amid the uproar.
This reality also allowed the Redskins to assert in their official statement Tuesday that they talked to Foster’s ex-Alabama teammates and current Redskins before making the move without proof, as two of them — Jonathan Allen and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix — told reporters Wednesday that the club did not consult with them about Foster. This, as you might imagine, led to only more criticism of the team, though it must be noted that three more of Foster’s ex-Alabama teammates (Da’Ron Payne, Shaun Dion Hamilton and Ryan Anderson) remain on the roster.
While that latest bit of news was catnip to those ripping the Redskins for making the move, it took only a glance on social media to see that there were also plenty of Redskins supporters who were defending their team for the decision. To be sure, this did not come as a surprise to Foster’s supporters in Washington’s divided front office.
Given the cold-blooded, win-at-all-costs nature of the NFL and fans’ forgiving nature for winners, perhaps the fact Foster had supporters in Washington at all shouldn’t have come as a surprise, either.
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