NFL

49ers shouldn't have played Smith

The charges against Aldon Smith stem from a party at his home in June 2012.
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Jen Floyd Engel

Jen Floyd Engel, selected as the top columnist in the 2012 Associated Press Sports Editors annual contest, started working at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1997 and became a columnist in 2003 before joining FOXSports.com. Sports opinions? She's never short of them. And love her or hate her, she'll be just another one of the boys. Follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook.

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San Francisco 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith allegedly was so drunk he crashed into a tree, so drunk he was pressing the accelerator long after impact apparently unaware of said tree, so drunk he reportedly blew a .15 at 7 a.m. on a Friday.

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And this was not enough to keep him from playing football Sunday because – wait for this – “sitting somebody down and paying them to sit down when they’re going to seek treatment in the future, that didn’t seem like an appropriate punishment.”

This was Niners president Ted York talking to reporters, doubling down on organizational idiocy and “explaining” why Smith was whisked off to rehab after Sunday’s game instead of say, you know, before it. Just because York said “there was no right way to do it” does not make it so.

There absolutely was a right way.

Hint: It was not the way the 49ers handled it.

The team sent the wrong message by playing Smith, and I do not mean this in the ubiquitous wrong message to “the kids/the fans/his teammates/MADD/advertisers/journalists” sort of way we always hear debated. The wrong message was sent to the kid who got behind the wheel of a car drunk instead of calling a cab or a friend or the NFLPA service. This is not about punishment or showing everybody how serious the 49ers and the league are about drinking and driving. This is about taking care and doing the right thing by a young man, in Aldon Smith, who obviously has a problem with alcohol.

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Of course, he needed rehab. There are few people driving blitzed at 7 a.m. on a workday where you think, you know, that guy handles his alcohol well. This is especially so when you factor in reports marijuana and pills were found in his car as well and that this marked his second DUI arrest.

So why wait two days to send him on the road to recovery? Do not give me York’s answer about there’s no good way or the explanation about how the NFL does not allow for the team to suspend him (make him inactive) or really any explanation that avoids the truth.

The Niners believed they needed Smith to beat Indianapolis, and winning and playing and being there for your team matters more than anything else — more than the birth of your child, more than your personal brain health, more than facing your demons with alcohol.

It is all the same lie, even though we pretend they are different.

We have created this world where the game and the team and the bottom line is more important than everything else. We sell this all the time, and every once in a while, on days like Sunday, stop for a second and act all put out when the reality of what that actually means becomes painful to watch.

What happened with Smith on Sunday, playing a little more than 48 hours after crashing into a tree, being trotted out for a quickie apology and then sent off to rehab because the 49ers just want what is best for him gives standing to every cynic who says the league does not care about its players.

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Which, at this point, is everybody.

Is there anybody left who thinks the league is in the business of taking care of the guys who do the actual work involved with making the money? I mean when it goes against what they need or want or the bottom line.

I am not defending Smith in any way, though I feel for him.

He could have killed himself, or an innocent passenger like Cowboys defensive tackle Josh Brent did more than a year ago. Both Smith and Brent drove drunk, or allegedly so. Both demonstrated incredible stupidity. The difference between them is luck.

Brent flipped his car and a teammate is dead, and now he is facing up to 20 years in prison. Smith crashed into a tree and walked away and played Sunday.

Why they cared to put him into rehab afterward is because Thursday they play the Rams, and they don’t need Smith to beat them.

Tagged: Cowboys, 49ers, Josh Brent, Aldon Smith

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