I remember seeing Aldon Smith for the first time. It was at his introductory press conference and he was meeting the Bay Area media for the first time. Some people didn’t think that Smith was the right pick for the 49ers and so there was a curiosity to what Smith would bring to the team. Smith, with all his physical skills, ended up being a very solid pick by the 49ers. In the very short time in the league, he established himself as one of the best pass rushers in the game.
The 49ers were proud of Smith and the fact that, in a way, proved doubters wrong. They wanted the best for Smith. They wanted Smith to be a great success story.
They held onto Aldon after his first off-field incident. Then the second. Then the third. Even through last year’s ordeal, they kept holding on to him. They could have handled it differently, but the message was clear: the 49ers were not giving up on him. Sure, there was a lot of emotional attachments and some selfishness in it — but the 49ers did not want to lose Smith. It seemed like he was turning the page and getting things right. But it wasn’t to be. Finally after the fifth strike, he was out.
You can only coddle and protect someone for so long before it doesn’t work and tough love is the only option. Of course the 49ers didn’t want to let Smith go. But the only thing for them to do was to release him, and have him learn on his own. The 49ers could no longer hold his hand anymore.
Head coach Jim Tomsula, who has been coaching Smith since day one, echoed his hope of Smith getting his act together as well as others who may also be struggling with demons.
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.
The 49ers had to do it. And now it’s on Smith to do just that and get himself right.
For Smith, it’s easy to judge him for this mishap and all the previous ones. We don’t know what he is going through. Sure, he has been responsible and he deserves to be judged by that. But we also have to understand that what he is going through isn’t something that we can all relate to.
In that first season, I covered Smith and he was exactly what I expected out of a rookie. He was shy at times. He wasn’t too comfortable around the media but would crack a joke every now and then. It also seemed like he got along well with teammates and was a great worker on the field. He seemed like he had it together. But somewhere along the way, he couldn’t maintain it and he’s here now.
I hope he gets himself right. It’s not about football, as Tomsula said. This is a man who seemingly had it good and somehow fell off and has struggled to get back up. The 49ers held on to him as long as they could, hoping that he would get up. Now they realized that they couldn’t help him. It’s time for someone else to help him.
Maybe Smith can finally get the help he needs. Maybe now he’s out of the 49ers’ house, he has to fend for himself in the realities of the world. And maybe for the first time in a long time, Smith will try to help himself out of it.
The support from the 49ers and some fans will remain, believing that there is still hope. But it all comes back to whether or not Smith believes that he can get it together. That glimmer of hope is what might be the difference in helping him change course on this dangerous path. I hope for the best for him.