- Why are teams more willing to sign a player accused of domestic violence than one who makes a statement by kneeling for the national anthem? The answer says a lot about the league, and about us.
There are a lot of explanations for why an NFL team picked up Reuben Foster this week, but maybe the most straightforward one is this: because it could. That’s not an excuse for Washington’s NFL team. But it is an indictment of the rest of us.
In the last week, Foster has been arrested, charged with domestic violence, released by the 49ers, claimed by Washington, and placed on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s Exempt List. Foster didn’t even have time to come up with a good tale of personal redemption. If this bothered us more, the team would not have done it.
NFL teams are like many people: They do what is good for them as long as they can get away with it. That explains why an NFL team in the playoff hunt will pick up a linebacker who has been accused multiple times of domestic abuse, but plays a quarterback, Colt McCoy, who is considerably less qualified for his job than Colin Kaepernick. Washington knew that Reuben Foster would not draw the ire of the President of the United States.
Washington tried to pick up an asset (a former first-round pick) on the cheap. The team bet that it would not cause a mass boycott. It was a cold calculation, the kind that most teams make: Is the potential payoff worth the risk? If Foster were an even better player, facing the exact same charges, more teams would have tried to sign him.
Remember Foster the next time somebody rips Kaepernick—or rips the NFL for blackballing him.
Millions of people say they are offended by Kaepernick’s kneeling during the national anthem. I am not among them, but put that aside for a moment. Even if you think everybody should stand at attention during “The Star Spangled Banner,” and even if you believe that failure to do so should keep a player out of the league, I think you can also agree: The accusations against Reuben Foster are far more serious than taking a knee.
You cannot argue that Colin Kaepernick should be out of the NFL for moral reasons but Reuben Foster should be in it. That just doesn’t make any sense.
It should be obvious to everybody by now that Kaepernick is out of the league not because he is a bad quarterback (McCoy, among numerous others currently on rosters, is clearly worse) or because NFL owners are all so offended by his stance (though some surely are). Kaepernick is also not a distraction to his team, according to … well, pretty much everybody who was on his last team. He is out of a job because hiring him would bring repercussions that the NFL desperately wants to avoid. Our country has devolved into a place where political stances draw angrier responses than domestic abuse, so it is safer to hire a domestic abuser than a political activist.
There is that cold calculation again. Teams know Kaepernick is better than some of the quarterbacks they employ; they just don’t think he is so much better that it’s worth signing him and dealing with the fallout.
There is, of course, a famous domestic abuser who has been effectively blackballed from the NFL: Ray Rice, who was 27 years old when the Ravens cut him. But NFL teams did not avoid Rice because he punched his wife Janay; they avoided him because everybody saw him punch his wife. Signing Rice in 2014 or 2015, when he was still a viable NFL player, would have brought far more scrutiny and criticism than Washington got for picking up Foster this week. It would have been a national story for outlets that don’t even cover sports.
NFL teams were not too principled to sign Rice. They just wanted video of him throwing that punch to stop playing on an endless loop.
It should be noted that the woman Foster allegedly abused this time, Elissa Ennis, is the same woman who accused him of abuse in the offseason. She later recanted that accusation, saying she concocted it to gain money. This time she is cooperating with authorities. This means one of three sequences occurred:
1. Ennis concocted a second accusation against Foster, a few months after concocting the first.
2. Ennis lied about Foster abusing her last time, but is telling the truth now.
3. Foster abused Ennis twice, but she lied last time to cover for him, presumably because she was scared.
Any expert in domestic violence will tell you that No. 3 is the most likely. Survivors frequently cover for their abusers out of fear. That doesn’t mean it happened in this case, but if it did, then Washington claimed a player who abused a woman multiple times and encouraged her to lie about it—which is the exact opposite of contrition and remorse. Washington doesn’t know what Foster did. The team doesn’t care, because the team assumes we don’t care, either.
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