Philadelphia Eagles: The Reuben Foster Conundrum

Nov 19, 2016; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Reuben Foster (10) grabs Chattanooga Mocs running back Alex Trotter (24) at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 19, 2016; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Reuben Foster (10) grabs Chattanooga Mocs running back Alex Trotter (24) at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports /

If the Philadelphia Eagles believe that Reuben Foster is the best player available when they draft in the first round, they should not let his off-the-field issues dissuade them from selecting him.

On Monday,’s Eliot Shorr-Parks reported that the Philadelphia Eagles have visited with prospect Reuben Foster. However, a series of unfortunate events has caused the Alabama linebacker’s draft status to plummet.

Foster’s most recent mishap occurred at the NFL combine. Foster was asked to leave the combine after engaging in an argument with a hospital worker during medical evaluations. Recently, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport revealed that the sample Foster provided during the event was diluted; a diluted sample is treated as a positive test by the league.

Rapoport included in his report Foster’s explanation for the inconclusive drug test:

"As for why the test came back dilute, Foster explained in detail. He said he was sick before the combine. He was throwing up, had diarrhea, couldn’t keep anything down and was cramping. One adviser offered to have a doctor put him on IVs to hydrate, but he didn’t want that. He saw a doctor, got some medication and started hydrating himself.Foster believes it was food poisoning."

Foster’s excuse is perfectly plausible, though he could just as easily be lying to cover his tracks. It is unfair to render judgment from a keyboard, though doubtless there are people who have no such reservation. At the very least, it seems one could hold Foster to account for making a shortsighted decision that now allows skeptical NFL decision makers to cast further aspersions on his character.

But even this analysis emerges as incredibly hypocritical if it is coming from NFL teams. Sure, the diluted test looks bad. But NFL employees have no business anonymously wagging their fingers at Foster when their teams were doling out the painkiller Toradol as if it were candy as recently as five seasons ago. Louis Bien, who wrote a thorough piece on the NFL’s liberal use of the anti-inflammatory drug for SB Nation, asserted the following in his feature:

"After clinical trials, Toradol was approved for sale roughly 25 years after it was dubbed the Son of Naproxen. It was indicated specifically for the relief of severe post-operative pain. Its regular use — say, 16 times a year for several years — has never been clinically studied as a result."

Now the NFL deems itself worthy to cast judgment on a young man who may have used drugs? Spare us all the sanctimony.

The more troubling issue that the Foster contretemps has exposed is the fundamental tone-deafness of the league with respect to the players who enter its employ. A not-insignificant number of these young men come from less than ideal home situations. Reuben Foster is no exception.

In a well-written piece for the MMQB on, Robert Klemko divulges a tragic detail about Foster’s upbringing:

"In February 2013, four days after he officially committed to Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide, Foster’s estranged father was arrested in Miami after 16 years as a fugitive. Danny Foster’s alleged crime? In February 1996, he shot ex-girlfriend Inita Berry Paige and their 19-month-old son, Reuben."

Before writing off Foster, as our society so often does with young black men with “character issues,” let’s try an exercise in empathy. What must it have been like for Reuben Foster not just to have his father missing from his life, but to carry with him the knowledge that his dad shot him when he was an infant? That his father rejected Reuben Foster’s existence in the most violent way possible? What sort of psychological impact might such an action have on a young man as he develops?

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Considering the tragic beginning to his life, Foster has adjusted quite well. His exploits on the football field speak for themselves. He parlayed his athletic talent into a scholarship to the University of Alabama. He is a college graduate. He stands on the cusp of a career that will provide him and his family a life-altering amount of money.

And yet, there are some things young men like Foster cannot escape, no matter how fast they run. The following section from Klemko’s essay is quite revealing:

"Teams had plenty of other questions for Foster and his coaches and associates: What was the story behind that triple shooting in April at an Auburn nightclub where Foster had been partying? What kind of impact will Foster’s family and friends have on his career once the checks start rolling in? And just how did Foster become the defensive signal caller at Alabama if he’s uncomfortable drawing plays on the board?"

On the surface, these queries seem perfectly fair. But dig a little deeper. Are front offices holding Foster accountable for the violent actions of another man? Does the fact he may have some “hangers-on” in his life make him particularly exceptional? Do coaches and executives think Foster is dumb because he struggles in a classroom setting?

I was a teacher in a former life. One lesson I grasped very quickly is that not all of my students learned the same way. Some were comfortable in a traditional lecture-and-white board setting. Others were visual learners. Some thrived in a group setting, while others preferred to work alone.

There are different ways to learn, just as there are different methods to express what we know. On the field, Foster had no problem demonstrating his football intellect. Do general managers and scouts really believe that Nick Saban, who fired his offensive coordinator before the national title game when he felt the unit was not operating efficiently, would allow an incompetent player to take the field, much less handle the defensive signals?

We are so quick to write off young men like Reuben Foster. When reading some of the scouting assessments of the Alabama linebacker (which are bravely offered anonymously), it sometimes feels the evaluator just wants to label Foster a “thug.” Or maybe worse.

Because that’s what we do in today’s society. We place demeaning labels on black men like Foster after conducting some basic research into their lives. We define them by a handful of negative incidents. It’s certainly easier to find evidence that confirms one’s predisposed viewpoint than it is to understand a person and his circumstances.

Ultimately, Reuben Foster will be fine. Some team will draft him, probably later in the first round or in the second round, and then the general manager will hop on television and proclaim the “great value” of the pick.

Foster’s athletic talents will save him. What should concern us more is what happens to the young black men who cannot tackle as well as he can.

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Hopefully, the Philadelphia Eagles will resist the urge to follow the burgeoning conventional wisdom that is quickly defining Reuben Foster. If Foster occupies a high place on their draft board and fits the defensive scheme they hope to implement, they should take advantage of their competitors’ shortsightedness and draft the linebacker. If Foster’s play at Alabama is any indication, he will be worth the investment.