During the Eagles' 28-13 win over the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football, much-maligned ESPN analyst Jason Witten surprised many viewers when he called out Washington's decision to sign linebacker Reuben Foster just three days after Foster's arrest on domestic violence charges.
"I believe the Washington Redskins used horrendous judgment in claiming this guy," Witten said during the fourth quarter. "I understand that it's an ongoing investigation. But my family has been affected by domestic violence. I understand the anguish that it causes. Young players just have to understand that there is no tolerance for putting your hands on a woman, period."
Normally, sports networks and their broadcast crews avoid discussing off-the-field issues like domestic violence during the actual game. Instead, reporting and coverage of non-sports issues is generally relegated to a network's pregame show, such as Monday Night Countdown.
But ESPN went all-in on its coverage (and criticism) of Foster's signing. Minutes after Witten spoke out, broadcast partner Booger McFarland weighed in on the need for the NFL to develop harsher penalties for domestic violence. McFarland was so determined to get his point out that he completely talked over a late Eagles interception by linebacker Nate Gerry.
"I think the NFL needs a more stringent policy when it comes to domestic violence," McFarland said. "Make the punishment work."
ESPN spokesman Bill Hofheimer wrote on Twitter that the network didn't plan on waiting until the fourth quarter to discuss the issue, but the flow of the game and the season-ending injury to Redskins quarterback Colt McCoy impacted the timing.
Domestic violence is an issue close to Witten's heart. Not only has he spoken about experiencing domestic violence as a child, in 2010 he started his own foundation, which places trained mentors in women's shelters throughout Texas.
But Witten also opened himself up to criticism due to his public acceptance of Greg Hardy, whom the Cowboys signed in 2015 when Witten was still a tight end on the team. Hardy was suspended for four games following an NFL investigation into a domestic violence situation involving his ex-girlfriend in 2014 and played for the Cowboys for one season.
"I think more than anything I think everybody knows [I'm against] domestic violence. … That's unwavering. That's something that I lived, my family lived. But that guy is a teammate of mine, so I think you have to look at it from that standpoint," Witten told ESPN at the time. "It's not my job to decide who comes in. I'm a tight end… Our job is to welcome him and show him the way we do things and embrace him as a teammate, and he's done everything that you want."
Witten also played alongside Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, who the tight end said deserved to be suspended six games after an NFL investigation discovered Elliott was violent toward a former girlfriend on three occasions. Witten didn't mention either Hardy or Elliott during Monday's broadcast, an oversight the Athletic's Lindsay Jones viewed as a missed opportunity.
"Witten was supportive of former Cowboys teammates Greg Hardy and Ezekiel Elliott in the past, when they shared a locker room. I wish he had addressed that," Jones wrote on Twitter. "But this, in calling out Washington, was an important conversation and was handled well."
"It was a glaring omission that Witten did not address his previous support of Hardy as a teammate," wrote the Big Lead's Ryan Glasspiegel. "Did his views evolve? Does he wish he handled that differently? If not, how and why does he view these situations as different?"
The Athletic's Richard Deitsch also weighed in on the decision not to discuss Hardy during the broadcast.
Witten couldn't be reached for comment early Tuesday morning.
While the broadcast waited until the fourth quarter to address Foster's signing, it only took eight minutes for Witten to invoke just about every broadcaster's favorite negative trope involving Eagles fans — throwing snowballs at Santa Claus.
The incident in question took place 50 years ago, during halftime of a December 1968 Eagles game at Franklin Field. Fill-in Santa Claus Frank Olivo, who died in 2015, was pelted by what one observer called a "tsunami of snowballs."
"It didn't become a big thing until a couple years later when some other incident happened at a sporting event," Olivo told ESPN in 2011, "and somebody brought up, 'Well, what do you expect from those fans? They even threw snowballs at Santa Claus!' "
Witten wasn't done with Eagles fans. Later in the broadcast, he revealed a bellhop across the street from his hotel in Philadelphia shouted, "Hey Witten, you suck!" But in a moment of self-deprecation, Witten also joked that Eagles fans loved him compared to his critics on Twitter.
During her various reports during Monday Night Football and Monday Night Countdown Monday, sideline reporter Lisa Salters once again avoided the word Redskins, referring to the Eagles' opponent simply as Washington.
As part of a report just minutes before kickoff, Salters said Washington four times. And in an earlier segment on Monday Night Countdown, she referred to the team as Washington twice. She also didn't mention the team's name during the broadcast's discussion about Foster's signing.