Athletes today are being held less and less accountable for their actions on and off the field. Sunday was a shining example of that. Aldon Smith, a linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers and one of the team’s star players, suited up and started on Sunday in his team’s 27-7 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, just two days after being arrested and jailed for driving under the influence after crashing his vehicle into a car.
Smith had five tackles throughout the game, and it was announced shortly after that he would take an indefinite leave of absence from the team to address his personal issues with alcohol.
The shocking part of the whole situation is that 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh allowed Smith to even suit up, much less start.
Harbaugh’s decision to allow Smith to play was a slap in the face to all the victims of accidents related to drunk driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2011 alone nearly 9,900 people died in drunk driving related crashes.
What’s even more abhorrent about Smith’s actions was that they occurred at 7 a.m. on Friday, a day the 49ers practice. What was Smith doing out partying that late on a day he had to go to work? Regardless of the DUI or crash, the simple fact that he wasn’t in bed preparing for a day of work should have been enough for Harbaugh to suspend Smith right there.
Last year, there was another example of a linebacker in the NFL that got drunk one night and decided to get behind the wheel of a car. The results were disastrous.
Jovan Belcher, a former linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs, went out on a Friday night and got drunk. The next morning, while he reportedly was still legally drunk with a blood alcohol level of 0.17 – more than twice the legal limit of 0.08 – he shot and killed his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins, who was also the mother of his child.
Belcher then proceeded to drive to the Chiefs practice facility right next to Arrowhead Stadium and shoot himself in front of former head coach Romeo Crennel and former general manager Scott Pioli.
That incident should have been a wake-up call to everybody involved in the NFL that drinking and partying heavily, especially so close to games, can have dire consequences. Smith, however, didn’t seem to care about that on Friday morning.
Apparently, neither did Harbaugh. The 49ers head coach should face disciplinary action himself for putting his team’s chances of winning a football game over holding his player accountable for actions that have had historically bad consequences.
After Sunday’s game, the 49ers placed Smith on the reserve non-football injury list while he seeks counseling for his problems with alcohol, which date back past Friday’s incident. In 2013, Smith was arrested on suspicion of a DUI in Florida, a charge that was later reduced.
Ultimately, the 49ers are not holding Smith accountable for what is now a pattern of reckless behavior regarding alcohol. Trent Baalke, the team’s general manager, said that the team supports Smith’s decision to seek out treatment.
“The 49ers organization both respects and supports Aldon’s decision and commends him for taking responsibility for his actions,” Baalke said in a statement. “The longterm well-being of our players is paramount and we will stand by Aldon as he works toward addressing this issue.”
Where is the condemnation of Smith for risking the lives of everybody on the road as well as his own?
Where is the outrage from the coach or the organization at Smith for making a stupid, reckless decision?
Now is not the time to be praising Smith. He is a guy who has proved that he doesn’t care about others, because that’s what choosing to drive drunk entails.
Instead, the entire 49ers organization has chosen to put winning above all else. The NFL needs to drop the hammer on not just Smith for his now repeated behavior, but on Harbaugh and the 49ers as a whole for allowing Smith to even step foot on the field on Sunday.