San Francisco 49ers: Foster’s punishment highlights league’s inconsistency

SANTA CLARA, CA - NOVEMBER 26: Quarterback Russell Wilson
SANTA CLARA, CA - NOVEMBER 26: Quarterback Russell Wilson /

San Francisco 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster’s punishment was handed down today, further underscoring just how inconsistent the league is in meting out discipline.

This year has been a wild ride for San Francisco 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster. To say the least. And we’ve only just started July.

Multiple arrests, domestic abuse allegations, weapons and drug charges – Foster hit the dubious trifecta and had most wondering not just if his NFL career was over, but if he was going to be doing significant time in prison.

Well, after the alleged domestic abuse victim recanted her story and Foster’s lawyers were able to finagle deals with prosecutors on the remaining charges, the punishment has been announced and by all accounts, it looks like the second-year linebacker dodged a major bullet.

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The league has announced that Foster will serve a two-game suspension – without pay – to open up the season. He’s eligible to participate in training camp and preseason games, but will miss San Francisco’s first two games – on the road against Minnesota, and at home against Detroit.

Foster will be eligible to return for San Francisco’s third regular season game in Kansas City on September twenty-third.

In the wake of his suspension being announced, Foster issued a statement.

"“I accept the League’s decision and am sorry that my mistakes have hurt my team. I have a responsibility to the 49ers, our fans and our community, and I am committed to learning from this situation and making better choices in the future. The support I have received over the last five months has been humbling, and I do not take it for granted.”"

49ers general manager John Lynch also chimed in with his own statement.

"“Our organization understands and supports the league’s decision. Although we are disappointed that Reuben will not be with our team for the first two games of the season, we will continue to work with him on making better decisions and eliminating unnecessary distractions. We are encouraged to see Reuben take responsibility for his mistakes, and hopeful that he has learned from them as well.”"

Given that he was arrested twice in the span of a month, and the laundry list of crimes he was looking at, Foster got off incredibly easy with what basically amounts to a two-game slap on the wrist.

No doubt, with the light suspension, the league was just looking at trying to make yet another headache and a PR nightmare go away.

What they did though, was to further underscore just how inconsistent the league is when it comes to handing out disciplinary action to its players.

Consider, Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston just got off with a slap on the wrist of his own – a three-game ban for sexually assaulting a female Uber driver. Not only that, but then lying to NFL investigators about the assault in the first place.

And let’s not forget about Eagles cornerback Ronald Darby, who is going to face zero discipline for lying to investigators about the Winston incident.

Then put that in context with Ben Roethlisberger‘s six-game suspension (later reduced to four games) after his second sexual assault accusation in a year, despite the fact that he was never criminally charged.

You can also add Ezekiel Elliott‘s six-game ban last year to the pile. Elliott, like Roethlisberger, never faced criminal charges, but Commissioner Roger Goodell brought the hammer down anyway.

And let’s not forget Giants kicker Josh Brown, who actually was charged with domestic violence, but only got a one-game suspension. After the fact, the league came back and banned him for an additional six games — but only after obtaining “additional information.”

There’s also the Greg Hardy ordeal and suspension, you can consider. And let’s also not forget the granddaddy of them all – the hamhanded, botched suspension of Ray Rice.

Let’s also not overlook the fact that there are plenty of guys in the league, who have been charged with various crimes, who haven’t been handed down suspensions at all. While there are others, who have been charged with other, smaller transgressions, who’ve been treated like the second coming of Charles Manson.

San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers /

San Francisco 49ers

All of this is to say that the league is incredibly inconsistent with how it metes out punishment. To look at the decisions Goodell and the league have made over the years in regard to suspensions and other forms of punishment, you get the idea that they’re just winging it.

Or worse, in some cases, they seem to be letting public sentiment dictate how players are handled.

Is the discipline handed down to Foster too lenient? Maybe. After all, the NFL didn’t rely on the legal cases before handing down their suspensions to Elliott and Hardy. They conducted their own investigation and issued punishment from there.

Even without that though, there are the drug and weapons charges to consider. Plaxico Burress was notoriously suspended by his team for the last four games of the season after his 2008 incident.

But, he’s far from the only player to get into trouble for possessing illegal firearms. He’s simply the most noteworthy of the bunch. Some, don’t even get a slap on the wrist at all.

The league is all over the board when it comes to dealing with bad behavior by their players. And oftentimes, it seems like they only make a bad situation even worse, with their Keystone Kops routine.

Reuben Foster is just the latest to get caught up in that ill-functioning machine.

In comparison to Winston’s suspension, it’s hard to know which is true – was the league too hard on Foster, or too lenient with Winston?

Surely, sexual assault is a far more serious crime than weed and owning illegal firearms? Though, illegal firearms are a scourge in this country. One that’s a hot button issue in society right now — and we all know how Goodell feels about and reacts to hot button issues.

It just goes to show that Goodell has zero clue what he’s doing.

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Foster dodged a bullet by catching Goodell and his minions on a good day and only getting slapped with a two-game ban. We know the team is breathing a big sigh of relief that he’ll be on the field for week three.

But, all we can do now is hope that he’s earnest and sincere when he says it’s a situation he’ll learn from and take measures to keep from ever happening again. All we can do is hope he never puts himself in a position to get caught up in the gummed up works that make up the league’s office of discipline.