NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the decision made by San Francisco 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith to enter a rehab program for substance abuse could mitigate any punishment he faces from the league related to his Sept. 20 arrest for drunk driving.
The Sports Xchange reported that Goodell said from London that the issue isn’t punishment as much as it is helping a player who needs it.
“Certainly, the issue here isn’t to discipline players. It’s to stop the behavior,” Goodell said. “Aldon has voluntarily said, ‘I need help.’ We’re obviously there to support him and the 49ers did a great job getting him into a facility to try to get help. We support that.”
Smith hasn’t played since Sept. 22 and he entered treatment the following day. The September arrest was his second drunk-driving-related offense since he came into the NFL from the University of Missouri in 2011.
The decision to play Smith against the Indianapolis Colts two days after his arrest was widely criticized, but Goodell said the league and the team were in a difficult position.
“We’ve made a couple of proposals to our union that we should take quicker action,” Goodell said. “But they’ve resisted that. We have to operate within the context of the collective bargaining agreement and joint drug program. That’s something we weren’t in a position to do.”
For their part, the 49ers said they believed it was best for Smith to be with the team.
Sunday’s game in London will be the fifth straight game Smith will miss and the team plans to meet with the Pro Bowler. A return in 2013 has not been ruled out.
The league will have a number of options: They could reduce a potential suspension or fine or the league may choose not to impose supplemental disciplinary action based on how much time Smith spends away from the team.
Regardless of what the league decides to do, the bigger issue is Smith the person, not Smith the player. If he can stop engaging in high-risk behavior, that’s much more important than what he does on the football field.