Just days after his arrest on a charge of domestic violence, Reuben Foster has found a new NFL team — a move that has prompted some public backlash.
The Washington Redskins claimed the linebacker off waivers Tuesday, but he won’t immediately be taking the field. Foster has been placed on the NFL commissioner’s exempt list, which means he cannot practice or attend games while the league reviews his arrest, league spokesman Brian McCarthy told CNN.
The Redskins’ move for Foster, who was released by the San Francisco 49ers over the weekend, sparked outrage at a time when the NFL is trying to overcome criticism that it has been too lenient on players who have been accused of domestic violence.
“I was a little surprised (Foster was picked up),” 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters Wednesday. “Not the team in particular, but that someone did. But, someone did. I saw it just like you guys did.”
Washington head coach Jay Gruden fielded multiple questions about Foster’s acquisition following practice Wednesday.
“At the end of the day, we decided to make the move, and we’ll deal with the outcry, so to speak,” Gruden said.
Gruden also added there is no guarantee Foster ever plays again.
“I anticipate it will be a while before (Foster plays),” he said.
A column Tuesday in USA Today said the team’s addition of Foster sends a “vile, inexcusable message,” and asks how team officials can explain why they’re employing someone accused of abusing a woman.
“Will they try to tell their loved ones that it’s OK to turn a blind eye to domestic violence as long as a man has talent? With this move, that’s exactly what the Redskins are saying,” columnist Mike Jones wrote.
“I don’t think Reuben Foster will ever play a down for the Washington Redskins but that organization just told you today what they think about domestic violence,” sportswriter Richard Deitsch posted to Twitter.
Brenda Tracy, founder of #SetTheExpectation, a group that speaks to high school and college sports teams about sexual and physical violence, posted this reaction on Twitter: “Setting my activism aside, as a survivor of domestic violence and rape — Reuben Foster being picked up 72hrs after his release — hurts.”
CNN has reached out to Foster’s agent but has not heard back.
The Redskins issue a statement
Perhaps anticipating a backlash, Washington released a statement on Foster from Doug Williams, the team’s senior vice president of player personnel.
“The Redskins fully understand the severity of the recent allegations made against Reuben,” Williams said. “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.”
The Redskins have five players on its active roster who played with Foster at the University of Alabama from 2013 to 2016.
Commenters on Twitter also noted that Washington claimed Foster despite a history of arrests while former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who drew controversy for kneeling during the National Anthem before games, still can’t get a job in the NFL.
Foster’s troubled history
Foster, 24, was arrested Saturday night after police responded to the Grand Hyatt hotel in Tampa, Florida, for a domestic violence investigation, according to a city press release.
The former first-round draft pick was charged with one count of first-degree misdemeanor domestic violence and booked into the Hillsborough County Jail. Foster declined to comment when he was released from custody on Sunday, according to footage from CNN affiliate WFLA.
Police said Foster’s 28-year-old female companion reported that he “slapped her phone out of her hand, pushed her in the chest area, and slapped her with an open hand on the right side of her face.”
The 49ers released Foster on Sunday, hours before their game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“We have a set of standards in place that the players were involved with in developing,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said. “In this case, it was communicated exceptionally clear to the point as to what we expected out of him.
“(His release is) more of a comment on him not living up to what we had communicated and to the energy and the time we had invested into him.”
In April, Foster was charged with felony domestic violence for allegedly attacking his girlfriend in February at their home, leaving her bruised and with a ruptured eardrum, the Santa Clara County district attorney said. At that time, the 49ers announced he would not participate in team activities as he tends to legal matters.
In May, those charges were dismissed after she recanted her story, and Foster then rejoined the team.
“It has been made clear to Reuben that his place on this team is one that must continue to be earned,” Lynch said in a statement at the time.
In July, Foster was fined and suspended without pay for the first two games of the 2018 regular season for violating the NFL’s conduct and substances of abuse policies. The violations stem from a weapons offense and a misdemeanor drug offense, both of which were resolved earlier this year.
A thorny issue for the NFL
The NFL in recent years has faced intense public scrutiny over how it has dealt with other domestic violence cases.
In 2014, the league suspended Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for two games for punching his then-fiancée Janay Palmer.
But after a public uproar over a video of the incident published by TMZ, the Ravens released him and the league suspended him indefinitely. Charges against Rice were dropped after he completed a pretrial intervention program, but he hasn’t returned to the NFL.
Also that year, the league suspended running back Adrian Peterson over allegations that he disciplined his then-4-year-old son too harshly with a stick. Peterson pleaded no contest to misdemeanor reckless assault.
The NFL reinstated him in 2015 on the condition that he follow a number of requirements, including counseling. He now plays for the Redskins.
In 2016, New York Giants kicker Josh Brown was suspended for one game in connection with a May 2015 arrest on suspicion of abusing his wife. Authorities closed the investigation without charging him, and his wife didn’t speak to NFL investigators.
But the Giants later cut him after authorities released letters and journal entries in which the veteran kicker admitted to the abuse. In 2017, the NFL suspended Brown for six games, and he hasn’t played in the league since.