On April 28, 2011, the San Francisco 49ers used their seventh overall pick on a linebacker out of Missouri named Aldon Smith.
I tuned into a few of the Tigers’ games because, at the time, I was a young reporter at City College of San Francisco and Josh Tatum, Kenronte Walker, and Jarrell Harrison were defensive stalwarts who transferred to Missouri, so naturally, I followed their careers. Maybe I was too engrossed with how the former CCSF stars were performing, but Smith’s name didn’t ring a bell when it was selected. Because of that, I thought the 49ers were headed for another dismal season.
Those thoughts about Smith and his impact on the Niners dissipated quickly, as the 6-foot-4, 270-pound pass rusher terrorized quarterbacks, becoming the fastest player in NFL history to reach 30 sacks, needing only 27 games to break Hall of Famer Reggie White’s record.
Smith was special, a combination of speed and power who wasn’t close to reaching his peak. Comparisons to Lawrence Taylor and Derrick Thomas were valid. Some pundits thought he was better than Von Miller, which felt like a legitimate debate back then.
Unfortunately, Smith’s football career is an afterthought as the 28-year-old’s life continues to spiral out of control. He hasn’t played since the 2015 season, and over the weekend, found himself in more trouble.
On Monday, the Oakland Raiders finally released him. Tuesday afternoon, Smith turned himself in, to be processed in a San Francisco County Jail. He was eventually released from custody after posting $30,000 bond.
Over the weekend, he was involved in a domestic violence incident with his fiancee, whom he proposed to a few weeks prior. He apparently fled the scene and asked her parents to drive him to a rehabilitation center.
The cause of his outburst: drugs and alcohol.
It’s really sad what’s transpired with Smith, and it has nothing to do with football. Personally, I’ve been affected and witnessed how harmful drugs and alcohol can derail an individual’s life.
My mother has lived the better part of the last 18 years clean and sober, and it’s a blessing — trust me. She’s become my best friend, and I love her for realizing that she needed to seek help. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Hopefully, members of Smith’s family feels the same way and can help him shake his personal demons. Ultimately, Smith has to take control of his life if he’s going to make real changes. This isn’t about football anymore. It’s about surviving.
The NFL should do a better job of helping their players struggling with substance abuse. To prohibit players away from a team facility when they’re suspended is wrong. Organizations should be able to welcome their players into the building, keeping them involved in some capacity — if for no other reason than to at least lend a supporting hand.
Players have to police themselves — these are grown men after all — but as Smith, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon and Dallas Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory have proven, not everybody is equipped to handle the money, fame, and attention that comes with being a professional athlete.
In all of the years I’ve watched sports, I can’t remember a case like Aldon Smith’s. A hall-of-fame talent who couldn’t shake trouble. Some folks are nauseated and don’t feel sorry for the linebacker considering how many chances he was given. And I can’t knock them.
But personally, it’s devastating to see Smith back in the news for all the wrong reasons. He doesn’t seem capable of saving himself.
Forget about watching him play another down in the NFL again, let’s hope he can save his life before it’s too late.
Bonta Hill of 95.7 The Game can be heard from 12-3 on the Greg Papa Show. Born and bred in San Francisco, he is a sports junkie who loves to sit in the lab (home), eats breakfast food for dinner, and has a newfound love for tequila. Follow at your own risk on Twitter @BontaHill.