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San Francisco 49ers

Rueben Foster Puts 49ers’ Leadership In An Awkward Spot

Jesse Oehler

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Dec 24, 2017; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Reuben Foster (56) reacts after a tackle against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the first quarter at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Rueben Foster was arrested Sunday in Los Gatos on suspicion of domestic violence. If he’s guilty, John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan face an important test. Thus far into his young reign, Lynch has been quick to tout his preference for acquiring players who are men of character. This is in line with recent 49ers mantra, going back to when Jed York uttered the infamous “winning with class” remarks following the firing of Jim Harbaugh. Since then, the 49ers have put forth great effort to portray themselves as an organization in which high character trumps almost everything – perhaps even winning.

Following the Harbaugh years, when star players like Aldon Smith repeatedly received get-out-of-jail-free cards for numerous off the field issues, Jed York made it known that it would no longer be enough to just win. Winning had to be accomplished within the larger context of being a class organization. Kyle Shanahan talks often of doing things “the 49ers way”, a way that he grew up knowing when he was running around Candlestick as a ballboy.

If Reuben Foster is in fact guilty of something as heinous as domestic violence, then the way Lynch and company handle this situation will be their first true opportunity to put action where their words are. It was easy with Tramaine Brock; Lynch was fresh on the scene and Brock was a player that was brought on by the previous staff. It was a simple decision for Lynch to take swift action in releasing Brock. Lynch looked decisive and no-nonsense. He pulled the trigger and made the right call, and he looked great doing it.

But the Reuben Foster situation must feel different for Lynch and Shanahan. He’s a very good player on his way to being great. He was handpicked by Lynch when many teams passed on him due to “character issues.” Acquiring Foster was one of the first big moves Lynch made as the 49ers’ GM, and it was a move that many other seasoned GMs, with much more experience, chose not to make. John Lynch vouched for Foster, and said that Foster’s character was one of the main reasons he was excited about having the talented linebacker on the team. And truthfully, when Reuben is behind the microphone with that big smile on his face, he does seem to have great character. He comes across as smart, fun loving and engaged. He’s a bright spot that lights up a room, a guy everyone wants to get to know better. He clearly loves football, and he is a monster on the field.

If John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan do not get good news they are undoubtedly hoping for on Monday morning, they will have a choice to make that will set the precedent for their entire tenure as the 49ers’ football leaders. They could slap Foster on the wrist, send him to anger management (or whatever similar exercise players are forced to go through in these situations), Foster could serve his league mandated suspension and return to playing football. Who knows, he could possibly learn from this, turn his act around, give the 49ers 10 years’ of all pro football, and most people would forget this ever happened. Heck, Ray Lewis and Zeke Elliot got second chances, right?

Or, Lynch and Shanahan could stay true to their stated principles and release Foster. It’s a tough pill to swallow: getting rid of your young stud linebacker – the one you personally vouched for. When 30 teams passed on Foster, the 49ers thought they saw something others didn’t. Foster would probably go to a different team, one a little more desperate than San Francisco. Lynch might even have to watch Foster become a great linebacker somewhere else.

But releasing Foster in the case that he is guilty is the right and respectable thing to do. It would show that Lynch can admit a mistake and move forward for the good of his team. It would show that Lynch will stay true to his stated principles. It would go a long way to show the fans and community of San Francisco that nice words translate into actions, even when one of a team’s best players is involved. It would show everyone that these types of actions are unacceptable. More than that, it would show everyone that really and truly, no player is above the team.

Writer for Locked On 49ers, father and lifetime 49ers fan. Former football player, house builder and server of coffee. A globetrotting wannabe musician, Jesse has tuned in to 49ers games from Mexico, Germany, Belize and many places in-between.

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