In professional sports, the phrase “character matters” is often used in defense of a player following negative press.
Here are just a few examples of negative press.
The Philadelphia Eagles signed quarterback Michael Vick to a one-year, $1.6 million contract in 2009 following his suspension and incarceration for his involvement in a dogfighting operation. Some 70 dogs, mostly pit bulls with varying degrees of injury, were seized from Vick’s property, where the quarterback admitted to hanging and drowning up to eight dogs that “did not perform well.”
The Cincinnati Bengals drafted running back Joe Mixon in 2017 despite a highly-publicized misdemeanor assault against a young woman at a restaurant in 2014. She suffered a broken jaw after Mixon viscously punched her, causing her face to collide with a nearby table. He currently starts for the Bengals.
The Pittsburgh Steelers hardly so much as commented on the two rape allegations levied against their star quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, in 2008 and 2010, with the former being settled in 2012 and the latter being dropped a month after its filing. No suspensions were delegated at any point.
Just the other week, majority owner Dan Snyder and the Washington Redskins signed former San Francisco 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster three days after the 49ers released him following his second domestic abuse arrest since April.
Therefore, character does not matter, not to NFL front offices.
While San Francisco gave their 2017 first round pick another chance after his girlfriend recanted her initial charges seven months ago, two instances appeared to be too many for head coach Kyle Shanahan and CEO Jed York. They released him over Thanksgiving weekend.
But one team’s trash is another team’s treasure.
Redskins VP of player personnel, Doug Williams, had this to say about the signing: “The Redskins fully understand the severity of the recent allegations made against Reuben. If true, you can be sure these allegations are nothing our organization would ever condone.”
And while that may be all well and good, it is nothing short of falsely sanctimonious. After all, this is the same Redskins team that “strongly endorsed” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s indefinite suspension of Ray Rice after TMZ released a video of Rice assaulting his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer, only after video of the assault was released to the public.
Initially, Rice was only given a two-game suspension.
If this were an anomaly amongst the NFL offices, the furor over Washington’s signing of Foster would be welcomed discussion, but the frequency in which teams turn a blind eye to misconduct of all kinds is becoming hard to keep up with and, frankly, nauseating to those of us that think change has finally arrived within the realm of professional sports.
The media storm continued throughout last week, with Williams going on to further justify the decision of the team to acquire Foster by comparing his assault to the crimes of other players that are apparently still employed within the league, although he would not go on to name any of them.
“This is small potatoes [compared to] a lot of things out there,” Williams said. “I could sit here, and I won’t, name a bunch of teams that took on players that got a lot of baggage that nobody’s saying anything about.”
Then the Kansas City Chiefs broke news on Friday that they would be releasing their star running back, Kareem Hunt, following online dissemination of surveillance video which shows Hunt assaulting a young woman in a hotel in February.
It felt like 2014 all over again. One step forward, two steps back.
It was only a matter of days before another team signed Reuben Foster and it will be only a matter of days before another team signs Kareem Hunt, because in a league where teams like to say that “character matters,” it really does not. Talent matters.