About 20 months ago the Washington Football Team made a roster move that shocked much of the country and sparked outrage among many in the NFL.
Former team president Bruce Allen's decision to claim linebacker Reuben Foster off waivers in late November 2018. San Francisco released Foster a few days prior following his second domestic violence arrest in less than a calendar year. The 49ers invested a lot in Foster, including a first-round pick in 2017, but the team said enough was enough and cut him.
No other NFL team even put a waiver claim in for Foster.
A firestorm erupted then around Allen's decision to claim Foster and the NFL quickly put the linebacker on the Commissioner's Exempt list, keeping him off the playing field and the practice field.
Still, Washington made clear that the priority was acquiring a football player with high-end potential over the public relations nightmare of signing a player fresh out of jail.
It's important to note that Foster was eventually cleared of all charges. The NFL did not even suspend him. But at the time Washington signed him the team had no way of definitively knowing that would be the case. Foster still hasn't played in Washington after a devastating knee injury last year and is currently on the Physically Unable to Perform list.
Much has changed since that decision in late November 2018, starting with the ouster of Allen following the lousy 2019 season.
Ron Rivera took over the organization in January 2020 with a pledge to change the culture of the franchise.
Back then much of the culture change was believed to be about winning football games, as the team has struggled to do that for the better part of two decades. In the months since, the scope of what needs to change grew far broader as a Washington Post report last month alleged a culture of sexual harassment and verbal abuse towards 15 women that formerly worked for the team. It was shameful behavior and led to the firing of two personnel executives and the resignation of the former team broadcaster.
Still, the accusations linger.
It's a stain on the organization, and maybe that will wash away over time, but not immediately.
Then Friday night happens, when third-year running back Derrius Guice turns himself into Loudon County Police on domestic violence charges.
Rivera was thrust into the exact situation he has pledged to change. And the head coach released the running back. Post haste.
Let's not make anybody a hero here.
Guice has played five games in two seasons. He's had multiple surgeries since coming into the NFL in 2018 on both of his knees. Releasing a player with Guice's potential is always a tough call, but releasing a player with Guice's actual on-field resume is not particularly difficult. He couldn't stay on the field.
But it's also important not to diminish Rivera's swift action, and more importantly, point out how different the behavior is than what happened in Washington under Allen.
Consider that Allen claimed and signed Foster after his second domestic violence arrest while Rivera almost immediately released Guice on similar charges.
That says a lot.
Guice's attorney claims the Washington Football Team acted "inexplicably" in their decision to cut his client without an internal investigation. He might even be right.
If it's proved Guice did nothing wrong and the charges are false, he will probably get another look with another NFL team. He oozes talent and skill, even if the injury history is scary.
But Washington wasn't in a position to wait, to perform an internal investigation, to sit through another public relations nightmare.
Washington was the only team that wanted Foster. Washington is the team that just lost three employees amid sexual harassment allegations.
That's the Washington team Rivera came to fix. His action was swift, perhaps even harsh, but fixing something that is broken doesn't come easy.
That's the thing about changing a culture. It requires actual change. Actions. Not words.
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