So here was a chance for Mark Davis to keep delivering on a worthwhile human mission, a decidedly anti-Al decree. Just as he won’t have domestic abusers playing for the Raiders, just as he won’t have miscreants on a team that once scouted in prisons and back alleys, he could have used the NFL’s one-year ban of Aldon Smith to purge a multiple-arrest lawbreaker Tuesday.
Even by Al Davis standards, Smith is a hellion. He has been a magnet for police lights and handcuffs throughout his 4½ years in the Bay Area, with five legal incidents in that span, three related to drinking and driving. Last I looked, a man who’s drunk behind the wheel is every bit as dangerous as Greg Hardy with a chokehold and a couch covered in assault rifles.
But Son of Al, if you haven’t noticed, has no consistent moral constitution. Whether the issue is player conduct or stadium politics in Oakland and Los Angeles, he’s full of crap and stretched in both directions like a Gumby doll. He broke his no-bad-guy vow when he signed Smith on the Friday before the regular-season opener, four weeks after the 49ers mercifully released him. And rather than cut ties with Smith after the league declared he had violated its substance-abuse policy and will be suspended for one calendar year, effective immediately, Davis made an annoucement ill-advised not only for future perceptions of his franchise — particularly if the Raiders are moving to a new market full of impressionable new fans and corporate sponsors — but also from an alcohol counselor’s perspective.
Aldon Smith, Davis said, will have a long-term home with the Raiders when — if, I should say — he is reinstated next November.
We’ll pause to allow for the appropriate public reaction, which might range from shouting to vomiting if you have a heightened conscience and are not a Black Hole loon.
Never mind the possible trouble Smith could find over the next 12 months. Never mind the message this sends throughout a nation that has long grown tired of NFL problem children receiving breaks. Son of Al, along with general manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Jack Del Rio, will welcome him back with open arms … and available bail bonds.
“Aldon has been a positive addition to the Raiders,” the team said in a prepared statement approved by Davis. “He remains prominently in our long term plans and we will continue to support this member of our family as he gets the help that he needs.”
Not surprisingly, Smith returned the hugs and kisses to his Raiders bosses, thankful that he’ll somehow have a high-paying job waiting for him when most people in his position would be out on the street with no idea what’s next in life.
“First, I want to thank the Raiders, my teammates, the fans, our coaches and our owner for supporting me throughout all of this,” Smith said in his own statement, also released by the team. “I am taking this time to work on myself and become the man I need to be, my team and organization needs me to be, and I know I can be.
“I had lost my love for the game and it led me to some poor choices, but I am thankful to the Raider organization for believing in me this season and will continue to better myself and grow from my experiences. I look forward to rejoining the team next year.”
Granting a second chance to a troubled soul, even a third chance, can be tolerated. But if you count Smith’s five run-ins and two league suspensions — he served a nine-game ban last season for violating the substance-abuse and personal-conduct policies — this means his next chance would be No. 8. We knew he had cat-like instincts as a breathtaking pass-rusher, drooling in 2012 when he took a franchise-record 19½ sacks into the Super Bowl and totaled a blurry 33½ in his first two seasons.
But giving nine lives to this repeat-repeat-repeat-repeat-repeat offender is a recipe for a tragedy. At some point, a team will have to give Smith a form of tough-love commonly known as a kick in the ass. When he was dumped by the 49ers, a distraught GM, Trent Baalke, met with him for hours while coach Jim Tomsula sounded like Dr. Phil at a press conference. “It’s a sad day,” he said. “I understand the platform that we are on. I understand where this goes in the news. And what I would like to say is if one person out there reads this, and you’re struggling, get help. Go get it. You’re worth it. You’re worth it. There’s value in every human being. Get the help. You don’t have to walk alone. Find it. It’s there. And although Aldon will not be playing football here, we will be supporting him. He will not be alone.”
Of course, he wasn’t. The Raiders, across the Bay, were right there to swoop him up, hand him No. 99, give him a one-year deal for a possible $8 million and point him to the field. Davis was tone-deaf to the reason Smith was released by the 49ers: DUI, hit-and-run and vandalism charges for an August incident in Santa Clara, not to mention previous episodes involving guns and drugs and alcohol and cars. Oh, and there was the day at the L.A. airport when he became confrontational after being selected for random screening.
Know what Smith allegedly did? According to a police report, he made a comment to a TSA agent “indicating that he was in possession of a bomb.” Though no charges were filed, imagine if he was accused of dropping the b-word this week at an airport, only days after the Paris attacks.
And, still, the owner wants him back because he can sack a quarterback — 3½ in nine games this season, a sack and three QB hurries Sunday in the loss to Minnesota — and because he looks lethal across from pass-rusher extraordinaire Khalil Mack.
Mr. Davis, you cannot talk about your clean and socially responsible shop on a Monday, then excuse all of Aldon Smith’s dirty laundry on a Tuesday.
By Wednesday, your credibility is completely shot.
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.