“In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate but equally important groups: The police, who investigate crime, and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders.”
So goes the iconic opening to television’s long-running police procedural franchise, “Law & Order.”
The NFL has a version of that as well. In its system, the people are represented by one group: The commissioner’s office investigates alleged offenses against the game of football, prosecutes the offenders, then acts as judge, jury and executioner while issuing sentences that seem to depend on which way the wind is blowing that day.
Reuben Foster of the Washington Redskins was arrested on Nov. 24 and charged with misdemeanor domestic violence.
Florida prosecutors dropped the charges in January, finding insufficient legal evidence to convict Foster of the accusations leveled against him.
In the eyes of the law, Foster is innocent; he walks away a free man, unsullied by fines, jail time or damage to his reputation — insofar as reputation is defined by what shows up on a criminal background check.
The NFL continued to investigate whether Foster committed a violation under its personal conduct policy.
Foster will not be suspended, but he will be fined two game checks for, in the eyes of the police and the district attorneys, doing nothing at all.
Granted, Foster was and is no Boy Scout. Foster drew a suspension for the first two games of last season after getting nabbed by cops on a misdemeanor marijuana charge and misdemeanor gun charge.
And even though marijuana is legal in California, where Foster played for the San Francisco 49ers, it is a prohibited substance by the NFL. Guns, on the other hand, are illegal in California, which has some of the toughest anti-gun laws in the nation.
When the domestic violence allegations surfaced, the 49ers didn’t wait around to see if the charges would stick. They waived Foster, which is how he ended up in the nation’s capital awaiting permission from league authorities to ply his trade.
The NFL, meanwhile, said that “Foster has acknowledged that he is responsible for his actions, and he has committed to a comprehensive accountability plan developed by the league, the NFLPA, and the Washington Redskins to help him grow personally and avoid future misconduct. Foster was advised that any future incidents will likely result in more substantial discipline,” according to ESPN.
So, in essence, the league forced a confession out of someone who had been exonerated by people whose actual job it is to determine if someone has committed a crime.
Redskins team president Bruce Allen, who signed Foster believing — correctly as it turned out, that the charges against Foster would be dropped and Foster would be reinstated by the league — spoke in more general terms about the embattled linebacker’s penchant for mischief.
“Reuben understands that his past actions have led a lot of people to doubt him,” Allen said in a statement. “He has committed to doing the work necessary to earn the trust of his teammates, our great fans, and the NFL.
“We have been very clear with Reuben that his past does not have to determine his future — but the responsibility is squarely on him to change.”
As for the man himself, Foster had at the ready a statement from Boilerplate Athlete Apologies ‘R’ Us:
“I am truly sorry for my past actions and the people who may have been hurt by them … I am committed to not letting you down.”
All the same, a two-game-paycheck fine seems shockingly lenient when players under similar accusations but able to avoid prosecution — Greg Hardy and Ray Rice — both had their cases dismissed before trial yet have been drummed out of the league.
Depending on your perspective, either the NFL has started to realize that “guilty until proven innocent” isn’t going to sit well with the players’ union in the next collective bargaining agreement negotiations, or Reuben Foster got off easy — and it’s only a matter of time before he gets himself into trouble again.
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