On April 12, 2018, San Francisco 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster was charged with felony domestic violence. He was accused of dragging his girlfriend by the hair, punching her in the head eight to 10 times, and throwing her out of the house in a February incident. She reported being bruised and suffering an injured eardrum. 49ers general manager John Lynch said that Foster will be cut from the team if the allegations are proven true.
“I 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 a part of our organization going forward,” Lynch told reporters. “That’s the standard we want on our team, that’s the standard we’re going to operate under.”
However, Lynch also asked for patience and said the team would wait for the legal process to play out.
In addition to the felony domestic violence charges, Foster was also accused of possessing an assault weapon, which is illegal in California and which resulted in a felony charge, along with possession of a high-capacity magazine, which is a misdemeanor. If he is convicted on all counts, he could spend 11 years in prison.
In January, Foster was arrested in Alabama for second-degree possession of marijuana. He faces team discipline on that as well as the more recent charges.
Foster was a 2017 first-round draft pick and would not be easy to replace. A reporter for Yahoo Sports suggested that might be the reason the 49ers initially avoided making a firm statement about the allegations. In contrast, he notes, when cornerback Tramaine Brock was arrested for domestic violence last year, he was cut from the team just hours later.
The stance the 49ers have taken in the Reuben Foster case, however, is more in keeping with the American value that defendants are to be considered innocent until proven guilty. It’s all too common for people accused of domestic violence to suffer career-changing consequences and reputational damage long before they are found guilty in a court of law.
Although it’s laudable for the team to set the expectation that its players refrain from domestic violence, it’s important to wait for a verdict before instituting punishment. There are cases when these allegations are false, and the accused should be granted the right to defend himself. On May 23, 2018, the judge in Foster’s case dismissed the domestic violence portion of the case after the alleged victim recanted during the preliminary hearing. The Santa Clara District Attorney’s office issued a statement expressing disappointment in the judge’s decision, and stating, accurately, that recantation is common among victims of domestic violence for various reasons.