Almost four years after Ray Rice, the NFL might finally be getting the message on domestic violence.
San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch said Monday that the team will cut ties with linebacker Reuben Foster if it’s proven he beat his girlfriend. As it is, Lynch said the 49ers are approaching this week’s draft as if Foster won’t be around.
“The gravity of these charges has not been lost on us. We take it extremely seriously,” Lynch said.
It’s about time.
While Roger Goodell’s arbitrary punishments have left him open to criticism, to say nothing of lengthy appeals, the NFL commissioner has at least recognized the seriousness of domestic violence and the league’s role in addressing it. The NFL has created awareness programs, mandated training and given money to groups that help women in crisis.
But whatever good work the league has done has been negated by team owners, who time and again have sent the message that women’s lives are immaterial if their abusers are key contributors on the field.
New York Giants owner John Mara admitted the team knew kicker Josh Brown had abused his wife and signed him to an extension, anyway. Chicago Bears owner George McCaskey changed his mind about signing Ray McDonald after getting glowing endorsements from the defensive end’s family and former coaches.
Did he also talk to McDonald’s fiancée, who police said was left with “visible injury” from the player’s abuse? Why no, McCaskey said, he didn’t.
"An alleged victim, I think — much like anybody else who has a bias in this situation — there's a certain amount of discounting in what they have to say," McCaskey said then.
And we can’t forget Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who tried to stage a mutiny against Goodell and his fellow owners because the commissioner had had the audacity to punish running back Ezekiel Elliott for documented instances of abuse.
This would be the same Jerry Jones who rewarded Greg Hardy with an $11 million contract after he’d choked his then-girlfriend, threatened to kill her and tossed her on a bed covered with guns. Only when his production nosedived did Jones decide Hardy wasn’t worth the trouble.
Lynch’s comments Monday didn’t go far enough, leaving the door open for Foster to return depending on the results of the court case.
In case Lynch isn’t already aware, domestic violence cases are notoriously difficult to prosecute, and convictions are a rarity. Victims are often reluctant or scared to testify, for a multitude of reasons, and society remains skeptical unless there’s physical evidence.
Like, say, a videotape.
That prosecutors felt the case against Foster was strong enough to bring charges should have been damning enough for the 49ers. Foster was charged with felony domestic violence stemming from a Feb. 11 incident in which his live-in girlfriend said he “dragged her by her hair, physically threw her out of the house and punched her in the head eight to 10 times.”
While investigating, police found an assault rifle and large-capacity magazine, both of which are illegal to possess in California.
Still, Lynch went further than other NFL executives have. Sad as it might be, that counts as progress.
"We abhor domestic violence," Lynch said. "If we learn that the charges that have been levied against (him), if we learn them to be true, he’s not going to be here, and I think that speaks volumes."
It’s actually more like a whisper. But it’s better than the silence or full-throated excuses we’re so accustomed to hearing.