I don’t know exactly what Reuben Foster did on Friday. All I know is that he picked the worst possible time and place to do it.
According to various reports, Foster, in Indianapolis for the annual NFL Combine even though he didn’t plan to participate in drills because of an injured shoulder, had some sort of disagreement – “altercation” seemed extreme, since no one was arrested – with a medical attendant who was supposed to perform some sort of tests on Foster. Perhaps, as at least one source says, Foster grew frustrated with a long, slow wait in line. Perhaps he was provoked or perhaps he had his head swollen by the possibility of future NFL riches and acted like a horse’s posterior to someone that was just trying to do his job. The upshot was that someone in charge at the Combine decided it was best to out Foster on a plane back home.
Foster, speaking via an Instagram video on Saturday morning, was adamant that “nothing happened,” and there’s no reason not to believe him.
So do I think this was, as some alarmists immediately gasped, a million-dollar mistake by Foster, one that will send him plummeting down draft boards across the NFL? No, unless there is some recurrence, another incident between now and draft day. Foster will get a chance to meet with NFL team representatives this Wednesday at Alabama’s Pro Day and tell his side of the story, which he needs to do truthfully and concisely. In the meantime, he’s going to have to listen to it.
There may be no more concentrated volume of media-to-actual-news anywhere on Earth than there is at the NFL Combine. Every team has its beat reporters there. So does every draft site, a ceaselessly proliferating genre. College media that can get to Indianapolis add to the flood. There’s some value to having a presence, when prospects are available for interviews. But there’s only so much real news – “Did you see Fournette’s 40 time? Noil’s vertical?” – and sites are often left debating the significance of a 5/8ths-inch difference in quarterback hand sizes. Thus, when something real happens – an actual prospect is actually sent home – everybody seizes upon it like a beagle on a biscuit.
Here’s what we do know about Reuben Foster. He’s always been prone to volatility. His tattoos tell us so. He plays with emotion. That’s part of who he is. That may or may not carry over off the field, but it is well-known that he was one of the most popular players on the Alabama team (and one of its most effective recruiters) for his entire career.
Given Foster’s insistence that nothing happened, this isn’t directed at him but at every college player transitioning into the professional world, whether they are coming out of Alabama or not.
Always remember that people are watching. I don’t know if I’d go so far as the always-provocative folks at Pro Football Talk, who hint that NFL teams like to set up high-pressure situations to see how potential draftees respond, but I don’t think such a suggestion is entirely off the wall. Regardless, nearly every college prospect these days is leaving a strictly controlled environment – and that includes controlled media access – and going out on their own. Caution is important, whether that’s in the way you act, or the way you manage the money you’ll be getting.
Reuben Foster probably hasn’t started himself down the wrong path, based on what sounds like a trivial incident at most. He just needs to recognize that he is at a crossroads, and there’s a crowd all around.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.