Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Boomer Esiason on What the 49ers Should Do with Aldon Smith


Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Boomer Esiason gave his thoughts to SI.com on the dilemma facing Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers regarding troubled star outside linebacker Aldon Smith. This is a problem that has become quite prominent in Santa Clara, California, but more generally faces coaches on all teams every season—just look at the Steelers with Ben Roethlisberger, the Ravens with Ray Rice, the Cardinals with Tyran Mathieu, to name a few. Circumstances differ in each case, of course, and Smith, right now, looks to be deservedly in the doghouse. So what does Boomer have to say regarding the 49ers’ situation?

 

“I understand the moral dilemma that a lot of these coaches find themselves in . . . [Aldon Smith] has been as productive an outside linebacker as there is in the NFL . . . But now, if you’re the head coach, how do you deal with this? And I know there’d be a lot of people out there that’ll would say ‘You gotta get rid of Aldon Smith, you gotta get him out of here; he’s a distraction to the team.’ But that’s not so easy for the team or the coach. You see, they have built up a relationship with these players and they also know the inner workings of how this player has had to live his life to this point, so there is going to be some sympathy there as long as they’re productive on the football field.”

 

Boomer brings up a really good point. Many players in the National Football League have grown up in adverse circumstances—most of which the average viewer, or even media member, has little to no idea about. True, Patrick Willis’ difficult childhood is now known quite well thanks to an ESPN special, but the vast majority of NFL players do not get the opportunity to tell their story, whether they want to or not. Thus, only the coach, some teammates, and some front office personnel truly know the difficulties that have helped shape the personality and mindset of each individual player.

 

Relationships build up too. Yes, Trent Baalke quickly announced that the 49ers were “disappointed” in Smith, but he has also given him the support he needs. Smith has not had any more issues with drinking or substance abuse—or stabbing, for that matter. Rather, he did an admittedly stupid thing—comment about having a bomb while in the midst of airport security—but this just seems, to me at least, to be an action undertaken by a frustrated individual (who isn’t frustrated while going through airport security?) who has not had proper instruction on how to engage in public. (To be honest, I have always had the nagging urge to do the same thing Smith did. I would imagine most of you have had it too but, like me, have always suppressed it because you reconsider and realize that the small thrill would not justify causing disruption and even more frustration for yourself. The only difference between that and Smith is that he did not turn on that “filter” if you will, and spoke without thinking.)

 

Boomer Esiason had a bit more to say about the situation, as well:

 

“Sooner or later [Harbaugh] is either gonna have to decide that Aldon Smith is too much of a distraction and is bringing down his team or somewhere along the line he’s got to show that he is going to give him his full support and get him back on the field. I think it is going to be the latter because Jim Harbaugh knows that Aldon Smith, when of right mind—and of sound mind—is a difference maker on the football field and is still young enough to get his act together.”

 

I agree with Boomer. I expect Harbaugh and Baalke to continue to support Smith. Whether this means they will pick up his option before May 3 or try and get a deal done later on in the season, I do not know. (However, I imagine he might be able to get a cheaper extension right now if the 49ers want to pursue that and be in it for the long haul with Aldon.) What I do believe is that Harbaugh and Baalke recognize that simple punishment will not be nearly as productive as encouragement, support and helping Smith along. Countless studies have shown that positive reinforcement is much more powerful than punishment in changing people’s behaviors. Baalke and Harbaugh are not naïve, they know this, and they have shown support consistently and in a proper manner—yes, I firmly believe they did the right thing by Smith in playing him the Sunday after his DUI, not because it was in the team’s best interests, though it may have been, but because ostracizing a person in this situation would have been devastating and really caused Smith to question how much the 49ers organization cares for him.

 

Smith knows, now, that he owes a lot to the support of his employer. Perhaps this will encourage loyalty and a newfound dedication to turning his life around. I certainly hope this is the case, not just as a 49er fan, but more importantly, as a person concerned for Aldon Smith’s wellbeing.

Tags: 49ers 49ers 2014 Aldon Smith Boomer Esiason San Francisco 49ers

  • trinity

    I find this whole article absurd. To try to make it seem like the 49ers would put up with his behavior mostly because of sympathy for his plight is laughable. Lol seriously, break out the violins. Aldon Smith is an idiot. He is an impulsive, ungrateful, destructive idiot. He is also a great linebacker who can contribute to a lot of wins. And if they keep him, it will be for that reason. Not sympathy, but simply on the field production. To suggest otherwise is embarrassing.

    • Douglas Totten

      Thank you for sharing your opinion, trinity, but “sympathy” is not quite accurate when it comes to my view, or that of this article, of the 49ers’ situation with Aldon Smith. A better analogy to what I am trying to express would be “fatherhood.” A father can and will put up with a lot of crap from a son and, though he is not always pleased with him, does not turn his back on him–not necessarily for personal gain, but because there is potential inside that individual that has not yet shown itself.

      Now, you are right, the fact that Smith is an incredible football player certainly helps the 49ers put up with stuff, but I believe firmly that they have–and will–deal with him as a person more than as a player. How else can you explain the fact that the 49ers did not cut off his paychecks when he went into rehab?

    • Mike King

      Trinity very well said!

  • RegisHawk

    If you keep making excuses for him, you merely enable his continued (bad) behavior. This is not the solution. They should have taken better steps when he had the DUI last September. They let him play 2 days later because they thought they needed him (regardless of his condition) when they didn’t. They NFIed him for the 6 weeks (5 games & a bye) he was in rehab, then considered the matter settled. It wasn’t, but it wasn’t convenient to the 49ers’ game-plan to admit as much.

    It may very well be that Aldon cannot handle the issue that he has with substance abuse in conjunction with the NFL lifestyle. The standard fan doesn’t want to consider that possibility, they just want their player to play and forget any considerations of the human being involved. The team thinks similarly.

  • Hoosgow

    I suspect that the thing at the airport is not nearly as serious as it sounds.
    I’ve felt like yelling at airport personnel myself – more than once.
    However, it is possible as Ronnie Lott implied, that Aldon has a serious mental condition.
    That’s the assessment that Harbaugh needs to make – is the person really well enough to be on his team?

    • RegisHawk

      Things Aldon could have said other than “Bomb”:

      Are you gonna call me?
      Can I at least get a reach-around?
      Do you have cab-fare?
      You and my proctologist should get together and compare notes.
      Most TSA agents buy me dinner first.

      Everyone knows you never say “bomb”. Serious or not. I heard a story over a decade old about a woman who jokingly responded “A bomb” when asked if she had anything to declare. They arrested her. It’s a non-negotiable. There are no excuses. There are no explanations. There is no “maybe”. There are no people who get special consideration. There is no “They made me mad”. You don’t do it. Period.

      • Hoosgow

        The legality is not the main issue. An arrest by itself doesn’t mean much. Very likely there won’t be legal proceedings. Obviously it was a stupid thing to do, but we don’t know the details. The main issue is how it affects Aldon and the team, and what it implies about his mental condition.

  • Douglas Totten

    RegisHawk,
    I like your list, and while you (and Hoosgow) are both right–it is stupid to yell “bomb” in airport security–I find this incident to be exactly that: stupid. It isn’t a substance abuse relapse, it is simple immaturity.

    (Also, just a note, RegisHawk. I am not attempting to point fingers northward, but as a Seahawk fan, I am sure you know what it is like to turn a blind eye to substance abuse. It happens to every team, though.)