Oakland Raiders: Smith His Own Worst Enemy, But The League Is Failing Him

Nov 8, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Oakland Raiders linebacker Aldon Smith (99) celebrates a sack as Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) lays injured on the ground during the second half at Heinz Field. The Steelers won the game, 38-35. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 8, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Oakland Raiders linebacker Aldon Smith (99) celebrates a sack as Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) lays injured on the ground during the second half at Heinz Field. The Steelers won the game, 38-35. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports /

Oakland Raiders linebacker Aldon Smith remains suspended and continues to be his own worst enemy – but the league needs to take responsibility for failing him as well.

At some point, Oakland Raiders linebacker Aldon Smith will serve as a cautionary tale. That is, if he doesn’t already. Smith was a play of extraordinary, elite talent. A true impact player and game changer. But he was also a man who couldn’t seem to overcome his demons. Seems like he still can’t. He gravitates to trouble like a fish takes to water and can never seem to get out of his way long enough to find success on the field or off.

Smith’s story is one of wasted talent on an epic scale. He could have been one of the best in the game. Instead, he’s one of the game’s biggest disappointments.

After taking the league by storm as a rookie in 2011 with 14 sacks, Smith went on to record an astonishing 42 sacks over his first 43 games in the league. He was an unstoppable force on the field over those first three seasons.

And that’s where everything began to go sideways.

Off the field troubles led to multiple suspensions, being cut by the San Francisco 49ers in 2014, a nine game stint with the Raiders in 2015, and culiminated in his banishment from the league entirely in 2016.

When the Raiders signed him in 2015, it seemed like Smith had turned over a new leaf. He was a solid locker room presence, avoided trouble, and was a good teammate. He credited the structure the Raiders organization had given him for his turnaround and was eagerly looking forward to a new chapter in his life.

Then, the anticipated suspension came down in 2015, costing him the last seven games of the season. But Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie believed he’d seen enough of a positive change in Smith to reward him with a new two year deal. Of course, the deal was heavily incentive laden and carried very low risk to the team financially speaking, but it still showed confidence in Smith’s ability to walk the straight and narrow and be a positive contributor to the team.

But as Smith’s suspension dragged on – or rather, as Commissioner Roger Goodell continued to drag his feet – trouble, as it seems to when he’s left to his own devices, found Smith yet again. First, there was the infamous Periscope video purportedly showing him smoking weed.

Next, there was a report of Smith being investigated for a domestic incident in February. No arrests were made and the case has seemingly gone nowhere, but it was yet another blemish on his record.

Then, there was the incident in March in which Smith was the passenger of a vehicle driven by somebody who was legally drunk. He was detained but not arrested or charged with a crime.

oakland raiders
Oct 4, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Oakland Raiders outside linebacker Aldon Smith (99) tips the ball after Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) throws in the first quarter at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports /

This string of incidents has given Goodell all the excuse he needs to continue kicking the Smith reinstatement can down the road – something he’s done with glee, apparently. So far as anybody knows, there hasn’t been a meeting between Goodell and Smith schedule, and his reinstatement looks as far off as a Super Bowl does to the Browns.

That didn’t stop Smith from getting on social media recently though, to proclaim that his reinstatement was imminent. On Instagram Live, Smith announced that he was expecting to be reinstated very soon and that he fully expects to be playing this season.

It should be noted that this isn’t the first time Smith has taken to social media to make the same claim, only to have nothing come of it. Unfortunately, getting an insane number of “likes” on your social media posting isn’t likely going to sway Goodell.

So, Smith remains banished until official word comes from the league – word that doesn’t seem to be coming anytime soon.

And ultimately, this all falls on Smith’s shoulders. Ultimately, Smith is responsible for his own actions – and the consequences of those actions. He’s a grown man and needs to take some responsibility for himself and the things he does.

That being said, it’s important to note that the league is doing him no favors. In fact, it doesn’t seem to be unfair to say that the league is absolutely failing Smith and players like him.

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Addiction is a nasty business. And while no two addicts are the same, the league seems to treat them as if they are. Some addicts, like Smith apparently – and you might be able to throw somebody like Josh Gordon into that category – absolutely need the tight structure and rigid discipline that a team can provide for them.

They need to be held responsible and accountable to their coaches and their teammates. And in that structure, Smith was doing just fine in 2015.

But by banning Smith (and players with addictions as deep seated as his) from the organization altogether, by eliminating contact with his coaches and his team, by isolating him totally and completely, the league is hamstringing their efforts to keep their demons at bay.

It is understandable that the league would keep a suspended player from being on the sidelines during a game. From being in the locker room during a game. From attending certain team functions. But to completely banish them from the structure and organization some addicts absolutely need in their life, the league is handing players like Smith the loaded gun they use to shoot themselves in the foot time and time again.

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Addicts like Smith can’t be left to their own devices. If they are, they’re inevitably swallowed up by their demons. They need structure and discipline. They need to know there are people there who are there for them and who care for them. Who can help get them through the rough times.

Yes, ultimately Smith is responsible for himself and his own decisions. He is responsible for the consequences those bad decisions can bring. But the league needs to acknowledge that they too, have a role in the repeated transgressions of certain players with deep seated addictions by the insane rule that they are banished from the very structure and organization that can help save them. Or at least, help them stave off their demons so that they can be functioning human beings.

The NFL – of which, Goodell is the face – bends over backward to talk about how much they value and cherish their players. Yet, time and time again, we see them act in ways contradictory to that public stand.

His story isn’t finished yet, and it may have a few more chapters forthcoming. Maybe. But Smith is – or will be – a cautionary tale for younger players coming into the game. He’s a man who battled his demons and lost many times over.

But he’s also a man who was done no favors by the very league he helped enrich with his exploits on the field. A league who, by their moronic rules, torpedoed and undermined his chance to fully embrace his second chance by denying him the structure that could have helped him do it.

Smith is responsible for his own actions. But the league absolutely has a hand in the downfall of Smith and other players battling serious addiction problems.