- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 28, 2018

ASHBURN — The Washington Redskins‘ decision Tuesday to sign Reuben Foster, a troubled linebacker arrested twice this year on domestic violence charges, put the team at the center of a debate over whether the NFL is doing enough to curb the abuse of women by players.

The league’s inconsistent approach to the issue was highlighted four years ago when Baltimore Ravens star Ray Rice was caught on video knocking out his then-fiancée. Rice never played in the NFL again, but other violators do. And the league continues to struggle with an epidemic of violence-related arrests and court cases involving players.

Coach Jay Gruden spent 10 minutes Wednesday defending the team’s decision to sign Foster, who was cut by the San Francisco 49ers on Monday, two days after he was arrested at the hotel where the team was staying in Tampa, Florida.

The Redskins were the only NFL team that moved to claim the former 2017 first-round draft pick off waivers. Gruden insisted Foster was a long way from seeing the football field as investigations ran their course but called him a young man who “made a mistake or two.”

“It’s a team decision. I think we all had our hands in it,” Gruden said. “And we accept, obviously, the questions, but we want to let the process play out and see what happens and get to the bottom of it.”

That justification doesn’t work for Julie Owens, a domestic violence consultant for the Department of Justice’s office for victims of crime.

“At this point, when you have a player who’s released because of domestic violence, and then they’re allowed to find a spot on a new team before they even complete the full legal process — before any investigation, discipline or anything happens — I think it sends a pretty clear statement that there is no real concern and there’s no real commitment to doing the hard thing that needs to be done,” Ms. Owens said.

Much has changed in the four years since Rice’s punch. The NFL implemented tougher rules for suspending players involved in domestic violence. More broadly, the rise of the #MeToo movement exposed powerful men in many corners of society as abusers or sexual predators.

But to this day, the NFL hands down suspensions shorter than six games for most NFL players accused of domestic violence. And a commission on domestic violence organized by the NFL Players’ Association has been seen as ineffective, with two consultants resigning in June claiming their recommendations were ignored.

This all illustrates that the league is not serious about changing its ways, Ms. Owens said.

“[Players] escape accountability when this happens, and so what this does is it sends a message to perpetrators everywhere that you’re not going to be punished,” Ms. Owens said. “When we do this, it really sends a message to victims too: that there’s no point in even calling the police or expecting any help when my abuser is someone who is a celebrity.”

According to a database published by USA Today, NFL players have been arrested 922 times since 2000, 111 of which have been for cases related to domestic violence. The list is incomplete because of some inaccessible public records, and it doesn’t include players such as Joe Mixon or Tyreek Hill, who have had second chances after incidents in their college careers.

Since 2015, there have been 18 arrests on domestic violence charges, including Foster twice. Some of those players — including Aldon Smith, Josh Brown and Montee Ball — were cut by their teams and have not played since, effectively ending their NFL careers.

The Redskins and Dallas Cowboys are among the teams that have issued strongly worded statements about domestic violence. Owner Dan Snyder backed Roger Goodell’s investigation of Rice in 2014, and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said they don’t condone it. But that hasn’t stopped them from signing, or sticking by, players with baggage.

In addition to Foster, the Redskins signed Junior Galette in 2015 while he faced domestic violence charges, but Galette’s case was later dismissed.

Jackie Kallen, another domestic violence consultant, said the league’s 32 teams have to have the same mindset “across the board” for policies to be effective.

“So if all the teams say, ‘This is terrible,’ and one team goes, ‘Oh really? We can get him now? Who cares if he beat up his girlfriend? We’ll take him,’ then what message does that send?” Ms. Kallen said. “It makes me look at the Redskins a little different, to be honest with you.”

Foster was arrested in February on felony charges of domestic violence, making criminal threats and weapons possession after his ex-girlfriend accused him of striking her. But the domestic violence and criminal threats charges were dismissed at trial when the accuser recanted.

Victims sometimes recant, Ms. Owens said, because they are afraid of retribution. Ms. Owens said she has spoken with victims of NFL players before, one of whom had to go into hiding.

The Redskins did not attempt to contact the alleged victim before making the waiver claim, Gruden said.

Foster was placed on the “commissioner exempt list,” meaning he can’t play or practice with the Redskins for the time being but can use the team’s facility for things like individual workouts, meetings or therapy.

The team believes Foster will benefit from being around so many of his former teammates from the University of Alabama. The Redskins have collected Alabama players in recent years. On the defense alone, Foster joins Jonathan Allen, Ryan Anderson, Daron Payne, Shaun Dion Hamilton and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.

In a statement Tuesday night, senior vice president of player personnel Doug Williams said that “candid conversations with a number of his ex-Alabama teammates and current Redskins players” helped persuade the team to take the risk.

But two of Foster’s former college teammates — Allen and Clinton-Dix — said they weren’t consulted before the team made the move. Anderson and Hamilton declined to comment.

Allen, though, said he was excited that Foster is getting another opportunity.

“For everything I’ve seen of him in college, I’ve never had a problem. I’ve never seen any problems out of him,” Allen said. “He’s a great person. But I don’t know the whole details of the situation, so I can’t really speak about that.”

Asked what makes Foster a good person, Allen replied, “I don’t really want to go down that path right now.”

Clinton-Dix said he ran across Foster at the team facility and said the linebacker was happy to be with the Redskins.

“One thing I can say is people are looking for him to fall, people are looking for him to make more mistakes,” Clinton-Dix said. “But being a human, we all make mistakes and nobody’s perfect. I just hope, man, I have high expectations for him when he walks into this building. I expect a lot from him.”

The Redskins‘ front office has not shied away from signing players with violent pasts. This year, they signed Adrian Peterson to help their depleted depth at running back. Peterson missed the 2014 season when he allegedly used a switch to discipline his son, who needed hospital attention for his injuries.

Peterson was indicted and pleaded no contest, but vowed to never use a switch again. Yet he told Bleacher Report this month that he still physically disciplines his children.

In September, the Redskins added second-year defensive lineman Caleb Brantley. Two weeks before the 2017 NFL draft, Brantley was arrested and accused of punching a woman in the face, knocking her unconscious. The case was dismissed a month later because investigators found “no reliable evidence” to support the complaint, according to the Florida state attorney’s office.

The Foster signing is not the only Redskins news this year that has called into question the organization’s attitude toward women. Five former Washington cheerleaders claimed in May that they were asked to pose topless in the presence of team donors on a trip to Costa Rica and to serve as escorts for the sponsors. The Redskins pushed back against the allegations but made minor tweaks to the cheerleading program after an investigation.

For now, Gruden said there is no guarantee Foster ever suits up in a Redskins uniform. He said the team decided to make the move, “and we’ll deal with the outcry, so to speak.”

But while investigations from law enforcement, the league and the Redskins continue, Ms. Kallen noted that the team did not contact police.

“And I think that’s very disrespectful to women in general,” Ms. Kallen said. “Because if it was their wives or daughters or sister, I don’t think they’d feel that way. And you don’t reward that kind of behavior.”

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