Per the NFL’s personal conduct policy, the 49ers only have one option when it comes to disciplining Reuben Foster, the gifted but problematic second-year linebacker who has been charged with domestic violence and assault weapon felonies for an incident that allegedly took place at his Bay Area home on Feb. 11.
But it’s a fine option. Not only would it work, it would hand-deliver a powerful message.
Waive him, pack his bags, eat the $9 million salary, tell him goodbye. All of which would demonstrate to 49ers fans – and not just the women – that you, too, are part of the movement, that your franchise is committed to cleaning up the mess, to ridding the clubhouse of Foster and the other bullies and batterers who have called Levi’s Stadium home for the better part of a decade.
Since 2012, the 49ers have had 17 players arrested – most in the NFL, according to a USA Today database monitoring the incidents – leaving a noticeable stain on former general manager Trent Baalke’s reign.
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Though CEO Jed York has ultimate authority, second-year GM John Lynch wields significant influence and has raised a resounding voice on the matter, his actions regarding Foster noticeably less convincing.
While Lynch continues to preach patience in thoughtful, tempered tones, his actions could be interpreted as meek, at best.
“We believe right now that it’s wise to be patient and that all the information’s not there yet,” Lynch said Monday during a pre-draft press conference. “So we sit back and wait for that to come, and at the given time when we think the next step is appropriate, then we’ll make that decision.”
He then added: “I do want to be very clear, abundantly clear, that if these charges are proven true, if Reuben did indeed hit this young lady, he won’t be part of our organization moving forward.”
Heck, if these heinous charges are proven true, Foster might be moving forward in a prison cell somewhere. On the two domestic violence felony counts, the Santa Clara district attorney alleges the 2017 Dick Butkus Award winner struck his live-in girlfriend’s head eight to 10 times, ruptured her eardrum, dragged her by the hair and tried to prevent her from reporting the incident.
While Lynch’s response hints that the organization has some doubts about the evidence or the details, the reality is that district attorney’s office is unlikely to pursue cases unless they are confident of a conviction. Presumably then in this case, the prosecutors believe that with or without the victim’s testimony, they have adequate evidence, primarily consisting of photos, medical records and witness accounts.
The circumstances, sadly, are far from uncommon. The Centers for Disease Control report the approximate rates of intimate partner violence as follows: An estimated 1 in 3 women experiences rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime; an estimated 1.3 million women are physically assaulted by an intimate partner each year; among victims of intimate partner violence, only 84 percent of females disclosed the assault to someone, primarily a friend of relative, and a mere 21 percent reported the matter to a doctor or nurse at some point in their lifetime.
These past few years, the 49ers finally appeared to be listening to their critics, and undoubtedly aware of the NFL’s declining game-day attendance, seemingly intent on shedding their reputation as coddlers of Aldon Smith and other troubled or unsavory characters. Bruce Miller and Tramaine Brock were cut within a day of their arrests on assault charges in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Admittedly wary, before selecting Foster in the first round (31st overall) last year, Lynch and his staff researched the 6-foot-1, 228-pound Auburn, Ala., native extensively and concluded he could curb his behavior – naively, as it turns out.
At the scouting combine, he failed a drug test and verbally berated a member of the staff during the medical examination. After finishing second on the team in tackles, Foster was arrested in January for second-degree marijuana possession in Alabama. Now, in addition to the two domestic violence charges, he faces another felony count for possession of an assault weapon.
That the 49ers won’t cut their losses and pay the price (that $9 million) remains a head-scratcher. Loyalty to an employee is honorable. But how many employees would still have a job under these circumstances? In the real world, not many.