ASHBURN, Va. — After deciding to give Reuben Foster an immediate second chance following his domestic violence arrest, the Washington Redskins say they’ll continue to investigate the 24-year-old’s legal problems and are making no assurances he’ll ever play for them given the obstacles he must clear to return.
Foster is currently on the NFL’s Commissioner Exempt list and cannot play in games or practice following his arrest Saturday night at the San Francisco 49ers’ team hotel in Tampa. He has been charged with one count of first-degree misdemeanour domestic violence.
Washington was the only team to put in a claim for Foster after the 49ers released him Monday, the league’s latest example of an organization looking past off-field issues for potential on-field production.
Coach Jay Gruden acknowledged Wednesday the Redskins must deal with the public criticism of adding Foster so soon after his arrest, But the coach isn’t sure the second-year linebacker will actually ever suit up for Washington.
"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," Gruden said. "There’s no guarantee he’s ever going to play here, to be honest with you. He’s got a lot of work to do — personally, with the team, with the NFL, with himself — before he even thinks about playing football again."
Foster was arrested on a domestic violence charge last spring. Though those charges were dropped, Foster served a two-game suspension to begin this season for his arrest on a gun charge and for misdemeanour marijuana possession.
San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan, who was Washington’s offensive co-ordinator from 2010-2013, said he was a little surprised a team claimed Foster. Gruden said it was a "team decision" made with president Bruce Allen and senior vice-president of player personnel Doug Williams.
"At the end of the day we decided to make the move, and we’ll deal with the outcry, so to speak," Gruden said. "But for the most part, this is a young athlete, a young person who got himself into some trouble, and we want to find out exactly what happened."
Gruden said after practice Wednesday the organization did not speak to the woman involved in the incident. He did say the Redskins spoke "a little bit" to Tampa police and would continue to look into Foster’s situation at the same time as the NFL holds its investigation.
Nick Saban, Foster’s coach at Alabama, said he has not talked to the linebacker and doesn’t know much about his situation.
"Anything that we can do to help Reuben or support Reuben in any way, I think he knows we’re here for him," Saban said. "I love to see our guys make good choices and decisions and do the right things. Hopefully people can help Reuben do that in the future so he can have an outstanding career, but I have not talked to him."
Helen Jefferson Lenskyj, a University of Toronto professor emerita who has studied violence against women by athletes, said it’s common for teams to suspend judgment on a player in situations such as this.
"In a very lucrative team professional sport like football, I’m not too surprised," she said. "And it happens so frequently there’s sort of a pattern where we’ll wait until the facts are all in, we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, we don’t want to destroy his career, there’s always two sides to the story — endless excuses."
Williams said in a statement the Redskins spoke to former Alabama teammates of Foster’s before signing him. Washington has seven ex-Crimson Tide players who were teammates of Foster’s at Alabama, but two of them said they were not asked about Foster by Allen, Williams or Gruden.
"I didn’t talk to Bruce or anybody about it," safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix said. "You’ve got to speak with the organization, the guys that are above me, on that decision. But as a human being, as a person that wants to provide for his family and make the right decisions, just got to learn from your mistakes."
Defensive lineman Jonathan Allen said he wasn’t consulted by the front office, either, and added that he could only talk about Foster’s character based on his personal interactions with 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. But from my experiences, it’s been good."
Rookie linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton said he was happy for the addition of Foster, but declined comment on whether he was asked by team brass about his former Alabama teammate.
The Redskins are facing similar criticism to what the Dallas Cowboys received for signing linebacker Greg Hardy in 2015 after his domestic violence case. The Redskins also signed linebacker Junior Galette in 2016 after the New Orleans Saints released him following a domestic violence arrest, a charge that was later dismissed.
Gruden said the team could have waited and signed Foster later, but didn’t want to chance another team signing him.
Foster’s future with the team is unclear.
Boston University professor Emily Rothman, who has published more than three dozen studies on interpersonal violence, said she hopes that during the ongoing NFL investigation that the woman involved has a say in what happens next.
"Really the best person to go to is the survivor and the people supporting the survivor," Rothman said. "And that should be done consistently. Now, what the fallout is? In some cases, suspension might be the right thing. In other cases, it might not be because the situation really can vary."
The Redskins took on Foster, whose rookie contract runs through 2020, in the hopes that he can help them on the field at some point. There’s no timeframe for him to be able to contribute, and Gruden knows the team gets "nothing" out of the move if Foster is found guilty.
"We understand that there’s a lot of things that he’s gone through, and there’s some issues there," Gruden said. "We’re going to let the NFL take their time and do the right thing with the investigation, as are we. And we’ll go from there."